• Attendance

    June 2012
    M T W T F S S
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    Avery, Naim, Aaron

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June 28, 2012 and Trackers xPost

Today Avery and I went to have lunch with N at a place nearby his work, and then we traded Avery for Sully so he could take Avery home (it works better for him without having both Avery and Sully) and I went to trackers and got the kids. First, I’ll just put a few pics of Avery at Old Wives Tales, where we went for lunch, and at Nik’s office. Then, I’ll get to trackers.

In the restaurant’s very small and simple playroom.

More Avery.

A weird portrait of Nik and I, where it looks like half my face slid off.

More Avery, waiting for his waffle.

In Nik’s cube at work.

OK, Now trackers…this is xposted from the other blog. I will have the last day update tomorrow.

Trackers Earth (XPost) and Raising Nonviolent Kids

For over  a year now, I have really had a goal to involve my kids in more outdoorsy, nature type stuff. It is part in response to reading books like “Last Child in the Woods” which I wrote about on the other blog, here. Part about how when you lack transportation, you miss so many opportunities to get out in nature and you are so stuck in the city and I challenged myself to find ways to get all of us out of the city more. Partly because so much of the time I feel like I grew up with 0 skills. I mean, I am well-educated, but I can’t DO anything practical. I cannot sew, I’m an ok cook but not great, I don’t know anything about gardening or camping or sailing or really anything. I am grid-dependent, and I think we all should be able to survive ourselves out of a paper bag in a natural disaster and I really cannot. I could learn some things, but I may never be that great. But my kids really could be better off than I am.  And partly in response to the children themselves. Naim has always had a deep concern for the environment. Aaron sees beauty in nature and it really gets his head out of bionicles etc. when he gets opportunities to be out in nature. And Avery loves to be outside.

So, I was really excited when I found Trackers Earth about a year or so ago. It seemed like it might be a good fit for us. It had adult and kid programs, which to me meant that they could be combined. (This is important because it is a ways to get to for us, and I thought if we were going to do it on a regular basis, I would not want to spend 4-6 hours on the bus taking them and back and turn around to do it again. I’d rather go with them, volunteer, learn, help out a different class with younger kids, whatever.) They had a centrally located meeting place in town and then they provided transportation to several off-site and out of town natural areas. They stressed that they taught “real skills” and had kids taking “real responsibility” and doing “real things.” My kids do not like to sit around so much and play silly camp games and sing silly camp songs. They like doing. They want to do relevant, real stuff. They want to be a part of real life, not just in artificially contrived games for kids. Trackers promised all of this, with a passion. Trackers had summer camps, overnight camps, family immersion, and homeschool days. For logistical reasons, we didn’t get to start Trackers until a summer camp this week, and the idea was that this would be a trial for the homeschool days in the fall.

When I asked the local homeschool community about Trackers, I got good reviews. The only thing one person said was that it was not for the squeamish and don’t be surprised if you come in and they are skinning a rabbit or something. I knew they let the kids use knives. And I knew they let the kids use bows and arrows. My thinking was this: This is where food comes from. And far better for my kids to know that and decide whether, knowing where their meat comes from, they would choose to be vegetarian or not. And at least they are not using guns. It makes sense on some level, that you need some form of defense in the wilderness. Knives are a tool, and archery is a skill that can be a useful defense without being ultraviolet as guns. I knew about the weaponry, I saw it on the website, but I always looked at it in terms of self-defense, hunting, and safety in the wild. Since younger children were only using foam arrows, I thought it wasn’t that much of an emphasis on this stage of development anyway.

But perhaps I was only seeing what I wanted to see, or I just didn’t understand. But over the past year, on the website it seemed like the emphasis was increasing to less about pioneering type skills and more about war-games and weaponry, role-playing games and the like. I have never been into role playing, but I can see how others enjoy it and I thought Naim might enjoy it. When I signed them up for “Secret Agent Camp” where they were going to learn about stealth and tracking skills in the wilderness, it was embedded in  a role-playing game. Again, I didn’t think much of it. I never worried too much about their physical safety at these camps, but I was starting to worry about their moral integrity. Like, it is the age old thing…should kids be playing first person shooter video games and being first person shooters themselves? I get that its fun. And camp should be fun, but eating 400 pounds of McDonald’s french fries is great, too. But I wouldn’t let them do it at home and I wouldn’t send them to McDonald’s eating camp. I thought there would be some archery involved, but not all day long and against each other and with throwing stars and blow guns and nerf guns and pretty much shoot ’em up games all day long.

Still, I sent them to camp. The night before I remember thinking, you never know… this place could change all of our lives. It could change my kids forever. I really, really wanted to like Trackers. I really wanted it to be able to fill that role for us, or at least for the kids. I wanted them to learn the joys of nature and of surviving off the land. I want them to become strong and independent advocates for the environment. I want them to be able to see a world where you can live off the grid and respectfully on the land. I wanted them to see the beauty of nature and to always want to be in it as much as possible. If possible, I wanted all of us eventually to learn these things together, including some form of going to Trackers camp and skill building together. I wanted a lot. Not by the end of this week, of course, but I saw this as maybe the start of a new journey for us as a family. A new emphasis on what we can do to minimize our footprint and save the world. I felt like how far we went into our journey into nature was only up to us and our ability to find our potential. Lofty for some gimp, suburban folks, I know. But you have to start somewhere. Most of all, I wanted the kids to love it.

Trouble brewed on the first day. Naim did not love it. Naim said the teachers were bossy, kids fought all the time and it was too violent. He really wasn’t having that much fun. I shrugged it off. Homeschool kids need to sometimes learn to follow the procedures that are necessary in a group. The second day, I got a phone call from a teacher around noon. Aaron is having difficulty. He is crying over every little thing. Now, first of all, Aaron cries when he loses a game of UNO. I’m not impressed. I wouldn’t worry about it too much I said. But Aaron needs to follow the rules. I told the guy that Nik would be by to pick him up later and that they could talk with Aaron about what the expectations are and if Aaron wants to stay, he has to agree to that. Aaron mostly says that he likes “aftercare” which is the time after camp that they provide childcare before they are picked up. He likes it because you can do what you want. Nik told me that they were throwing stars (don’t know the name, you know, the martial arts star weapons that are very sharp) when he got there. Again, I’m not especially worried about safety, just…why? What does this have to do with anything? Nik, instructors and camp head and Aaron talk. Aaron wants to come back, agreements are made.

Day 3 seems to work out better for Aaron. But they come home from camp with blowguns made out of plumbing pipe. They also said they stayed in the building all day and did not go outside. (The building is a warehouse type building.) They climbed a rock wall and that was good. But they need NERF GUNS by tomorrow. Can we get one? Absolutely not, I say. The other day we were at the park with a fountain and Aaron asked me if he could have a water gun. I am not opposed to water guns per se, they can be fun if everyone involved is playing fair. But this was just after they got pissy because some kids were going around shooting them with water guns. They were mad and wanted water guns to shoot back. I said, you know, everyone at these parks I’ve ever seen with water guns is an obnoxious little shit that goes around terrorizing other little kids that don’t have water guns. Why do you even want to be involved in that? If they are making you made by shooting you when you don’t want to be shot, then why do you just want to go around pissing them off by shooting them? That just makes you just like them. Do you want to be an obnoxious little shit? So, in general, we do not have guns or weaponry of any sort in our house.

The most important skills I can teach my kids is how to get along in the world nonviolently. Most especially as a defensive method (as a victim  of a violent crime myself, I see now how any power I may have had to stop the crime started WAAAAY before the violence occurred. By the time you are at the casting weapons or punches part, it is already almost too late and a good outcome is unlikely.)  This doesn’t mean passively, it means intentionally nonviolently by using other methods to resolve conflict. This may be good communication, or it may be some form of nonviolent civil disobedience. There are two things that are going to “save the world” if the world is indeed going to be saved. One is to learn to live by sustainable means. The second (and it goes along with the first but takes it further) is to end war and violence.) Dealing with conflict starts WAAAY before the first shot, either by water gun or bow and arrow or machine gun or nuclear weapon. These are the skills I want my kids to learn and what I thought they might be able to learn at trackers through cooperation with community in harsh natural conditions. Instead, I think they are recruiting and training a small militia there. No shit.

I actually asked them this. But let me back up. Thinking I should keep an open mind and learn more about this place I am sending my kids, I had Nik ask if I could join them on Friday (a day when I could arrange childcare.) They said no. Something about background checks. Now, I have never needed permission or a background check to visit any other thing my kids have been involved in, but whatever. But weirder still is that Nik asked them (either before or after he asked if I could join, I ‘m not sure) where they were going on Friday, and they said it was a secret. A secret from the kids? No a secret from US. Well, maybe someone could call later and let us know. They never did. (Secretiveness for the sake of secretiveness is simply a bullshit power play move that is an automatic turnoff in my book.) The only thing they could provide parents is a tour of the base building. Ok, I will go the next day, I said. At this point, Naim is absolutely bitching about the bossiness of the teacher. How they have to stay in a perfectly straight double line and how they have to get on a bus a certain way. How they have to touch a cement wall when it is not their turn. I don’t know if these are legit bitches or not, but on Wednesday Naim decided he wanted to quit. And Aaron said that was ok with him. Partly because I wanted to figure out more about the place and partly because I had other plans, I sort of dissuaded them from quitting. And they went back fairly willingly.

So, Thursday, I drop Avery off at Nik’s work and we trade white cane for dog, just because he works better with Avery when he has his cane and not the dog. Guide dog and I went early to Trackers to pick up kids, with the idea that I was going to hang out and get a tour and see what I could figure out. Isn’t it weird that this is the first kid place I ever decided that I shouldn’t take Avery because I didn’t know how much I could really hang and find out if I’m protecting my two year old from flying stars? But Nik and I go into strange places all the time (strange meaning we have not been there before, we know that we are going to have to not see and hear our way around and negotiate with perfect strangers about stuff) and we usually do it without too much trepidation. We just get it done. But here I was so glad I had Sully because it was dark and loud and warehous-y and I was intimidated and out of my element.

So, everyone I ran into was really nice. I had to ask my way around and help to find the kids. I found the kids in this sort of game room and I played Connect Four on the floor with Aaron for a little bit, and then sat with Naim while he played UNO with some kids and a camp counselor. This was the aftercare portion of the day. The counselor that Naim was with was definitely a “doood” (very Portland, with a wild white boy afro and lots of tattoos) but seemed nice enough. After a while, I got tired of waiting for the pro ported tour guide that was supposed to come show me around. So I gathered up the kids and asked them to show me around. Aaron immediately ran off to an origami activity (where they made…you guessed it…throwing stars.) Naim walked me toward where they throw stars and knives. I saw what I thought were sort of restless teenaged boys messing around, but when I got closer I realized they were staff. One of them asked me if I needed help and I said that Naim was just showing me around and he said, OK.

I walked away and then this weird thing happened. I don’t know if there was any intention of intimidation or if this was just my perception of it. I am deaf blind in a loud, dark place. I can misinterpret things. But all of the sudden, I was surrounded by three or four people, a couple of them extremely large men. They were all like, bearded and tattooed and doo-ragged and knife belted and army green and black boots and stuff. And huge, it seemed.  Like tall, buff and built. They wanted to talk to me about Aaron. It is probably my perception of it but it did seem rather stealth, like all of the sudden they were just …there. So, we went into an office and there were maybe one or two more guys in there (and one woman) and we sat down and again, I have to say I got less intimidated because it was quieter and lighter and they were very nice. They were all concerned that the camp was too intense for Aaron. Naim is doing great! But Aaron is just having trouble with the intensity of camp and he is taking too much of the instructors time to deal with all of his little dramatics and maybe he shouldn’t come back tomorrow. And I sort of leaned back in my chair and observed for a minute, and all of the sudden these big, buff scary looking guys (one with his hand bleeding through a gauze bandage) just seemed like such…children to me. And this whole camp thing became very clear.

I kind of had been chuckling with the trouble they have been having with Aaron because, although I do have empathy and know he can be frustrating, I felt like they were being kind of weenies about it. Like, little, tiny teacher Hillary K. at Village Home has worked with and handled Aaron and his whiny crap for a year with aplomb and never has complained or even mentioned it unless I brought it up. And then although she has been honest about his problem behavior, she always sees the good in him, as do many other people who have dealt with his behavior in his life. They just deal with it, because they are professionals who know what they are doing. And I thought, it is hard to know what to do with a kid when you first meet them and I have no problem with them coming to me and talking to me about it, kicking Aaron out after two days for basically being a whiner seems kind of weenie-ass to me. And then wanting to kick him out again the day before camp ends? Give me a break. I know his behaviors. They are annoying. They aren’t dangerous or especially hard to deal with. What they really meant was that Aaron didn’t fit their profile of the camper they wanted. And although I kind of felt I was using Aaron as a pawn, (but I actually know he would want to come back),  I thought I was not going to let them get away with that. I said that I would take him out if they want me to, but I really don’t see why it is that hard to tell him that he needs to follow the rules or he needs to sit out. and if he sits out and whines about it, well then so be it.

They agreed to let him back in and actually were very open and nice about it. The one guy even apologized to me for not doing that in the first place. Its all fine and good, I know that it is hard to know what to do with every new kid every week of summer camp. But then I asked about all the weaponry and if they were training for some kind of libertarian militia or what. I said it kind of serious, kind of as a joke. Cuz, hey they are still surrounding me, bigger than me, and have knives. But besides one guy saying “not libertarian” I can’t say that they denied or gave any reasonable explanation for it. It was just a bunch of teenaged-boy crap to me. (You can read this blog post here by one of the guys for a similar explanation.)  These guys have mad skills as far as wilderness survival and weaponry skills go, I will give them that. But basically, they have just found a way to play out there teenage boy-big penis fantasies by marketing it as “noble skills” to kids and charging a lot of money for camp. No one is going to save the world with bows and arrows and then dressing it up around dungeons and dragons. The whole thing wreaks of patriarchal bullshit. Even the women are sucked in to patriarchal bullshit there. It isn’t that they treat the women as if they can’t do anything, they have very tough, competent women there. But for me, patriarchy is about having to have a power structure and hierarchy instead of dealing with people as equals. (Women just get the short end of that stick because we started out with less muscle mass and …just…lousy tradition.) The bossiness that Naim is talking about is the lack of respect that comes from a patriarchal power hierarchy. You don’t treat the children with respect because children are less-than. They need to know their place, march in line and follow orders. (Kids can be explained safety protocol in a respectful manner and will comply just as well.) The games they play with weapons and role-play are just as excuse to execute that power structure. And although the women there are tough and maybe not the most feminine-compliant (not a thing wrong with that) you can see that this persona is who you have to be to be “one of them” there. There is not a lot of latitude for someone to be different. (Even though I’m sure they take pride in how ‘different’ they are, it is just a certain flavor of the same cult.) Aaron is not fitting into the little arrow throwing tough Tome Sawyer character. Naim is complying, but he is not really happy about  it. He thinks it is stupid. They both told me that they do not want to return to trackers.

Even though Aaron’s version of how he expressed protest may not have been the most appropriate, he and Naim have both shown the wisdom to see through some serious bullshit at this camp.  They told me about the beautiful natural places that they were able to visit, but then told me how the camp itself, with its unnecessary bossiness and its focus on weaponry sort of got in the way of their enjoyment of it. It is sad that that happened, but I take pride in the fact that they see a different possibility for themselves and the earth. Always listen to your children. We will keep searching for ways we can grow our own relationship to the earth.

I see a real need for kids to learn how to live in the natural world and appreciate it to save it. I also see that in order to save it, a great amount of conflict is going to occur with the powers that govern and control right now. But we can go to war and feed the machine of evil and take the earth and all of us in it to hell, or we can learn to live like peaceful, civil creatures of nature. The real heroes are not going to be the “simper fi” so-called warriors and warrior wannabes. The real heroes are going to be the ones who have the bravery to find the right path without narcism, ego, hate and fear, but with humbleness, joy, love and compassion.

What do you think? “Boys will be boys and it is only natural for them to play violent games and learn to use weaponry and there is not harm in it?” Or, “Those people are crazy and how did you get your kids within 20 miles of that bullshit.?” Probably something in the middle, but damn! I really wanted to like Trackers and I really want to be wrong about it.

ETA: As I finished writing this, I got messages from Nik who had gone to pick kids up from their last day. Apparently, Aaron had a good day, but then had a major meltdown of epic proportions about not being able to find an origami star. They tried to help him find, they offered to make another, they tried everything I guess and he shut down and hid under a table. Nik had to carry him out of there. Now I think that this is on the deep end for Aaron, and the instructors may have been right about the camp being too intense for him. Obviously it was not a good match, and I do give teachers credit for trying to work with him. (And these guys ARE really nice guys. That’s one of the reasons this has been so confusing for me. They seem reasonable, but don’t seem too eager to help me wrap my head around some of the more “out there” things that they do. Instead, they seem to just want you to get out and leave them alone.) I felt like I was going at this whole thing blind because of the secretiveness of the thing and the unwillingness to let me tag along for a day or even a few hours. I don’t want to be a helicopter parent, but I have just struggled to get a handle on what the hell is going on at this camp. If I can’t experience it, I do not know how to advise. The only way I can know is to be there for at least a period of time. That’s what we deaf blind do, we experience and base so much off of the in-betweens of what you see and hear. That’s how the kids and I relate, on the feelings of the in-betweens. Obviously we won’t be going back in the near future, but I wish it had ended on a better note. —Kids are home now. Now everyone is happy, tired, and perfectly upbeat about camp. Confusing…