I leave for Sabrina's house in about three hours and I really, really should be packing for Dragon*con instead of doing this... but I gotta write down everything I can about the conference before it all gets pushed out of my head by my next trip! This will be long, because honestly, almost everything that happened at the conference was a highlight for me.
-Thursday I missed most of the conference because we were waiting on a car, so Val and I hung around her house playing old Sega games and laughing our asses off at stupid shit. It has been WAY TOO LONG since I've just hung out at somebody's house playing old video games. Guitar Hero has nothing on ridiculous pixelated fighting games from the early 90's.
-We also had a failed Walmart adventure in Quincy (pro tip: not every Walmart has a grocery store), but that meant I got to kind of see the area a little. I was pretty amused that Quincy had signs up featuring John and Abigail Adams, but not John Quincy. Also, we saw a sign for "Joseph McCarthy Air Conditioning." Opening a window is for communists.
-On Friday, once we FINALLY got to the hotel after walking 2 miles in the heat (ugh), there was lots of fun stuff to do. I met Chelsea and Emilie in the ATC funshop, and Chelsea told us about Nerd Fighters. The only ATC I made sucked and I didn't trade it, but it was still fun. Then I went to a duct tape funshop and made a duct tape flower thing that looks more like a pinecone, but is still nifty.
-At home I often complain that nobody likes to just sit around and play games anymore. Unschoolers LOVE to sit around and play games. There were constant games of Bananagrams (in which the parent table was about 10 times as loud as the teen/young adult table), several games of BS, and an awesome game of Yahtzee, aka The Game That Makes People Flee in Terror. I think perhaps I'll start carrying dice and a Yahtzee score card in my purse in case I am ever accosted in a dark alley. My attacker will either want to play, or they will run screaming in the other direction.
-I also had fun playing with Heather's son Milo. We were playing Battleship, kind of, except we were using an intricate set of rules that he made up, involving lava, lasers, and "jetpack guys". I have no idea how he kept up with all the rules. They were obviously made up on the fly (and designed, naturally, so that I couldn't win), but they were really clever. He was also way better than me at remembering whose turn it was.
-There were lots and lots of great talks and presentations. My favorites were Michael's GLBT discussion (I'm pretty sure I breathed a sigh of relief when I saw that on the schedule - I've felt inexplicably funny about being out in the unschooling community); Kathryn and Erika's "Even More Different" talk, which I've already mentioned here; Eli and Idzie's "Untraditional Adult Paths" discussion, which left me feeling way more confident about my desire not to work for someone else; and Dayna Martin's "Renegade Parenting" speech, which included a great message about looking for the needs that are causing people's behavior - not just in kids, but in all the people you deal with.
-The media trade was fun; I got Yanni and Enya CDs because I am a damned hippie, plus an Elvis CD for my mom (who thanked me at least six times when I gave it to her), and a DVD of "children's fantasy movies" including The Secret Garden, which is... uh... not fantasy at all, but it is one of my favorite movies. Also, Emilie gave me a Star Trek comic she got, because she could see that I was far more of a pathetic trekkie than she is. I also noticed she picked up the Matchbox 20 CD I traded in - it's pretty cool to see one of your friends benefit from something you might have just thrown away.
-I only saw part of the talent show, but it was fun seeing Brenna sing and play the guitar, and Broc and Ben's Blues Brothers routine was awesome. It was also great seeing how confident some of the kids are: one little girl sang "Going to Kansas City" with all the gusto of an adult, and many kids made up their own skits, told stories, or danced.
-There was also a great Irish band, Fishing with Finnegan, and for one song we all got up and danced and it was awesome. They also sang "Rainbow Connection" and almost made me cry, because that song always almost makes me cry, and I'm not really sure why that is. I get emotional over Muppets, I guess.
-I had some great one-on-one conversations with adults ("real" adults, because I refuse to consider myself an adult until I'm like 30) and got some great advice. Debbie gave me a good strategy for exploring careers, Kathryn talked to me about adoption and unschooling, and I got to have a really cool conversation with a woman named Vanessa about physics.
-Going out for sushi Sunday night! Sushi is delicious all the time, but it's even better when it involves awesome people, hangman, and sillyness.
-As supremely awesome as all that stuff was, it wasn't the best part. The best part was just making so many friends! You know, usually if you hang out with some people who live far away for three days, you might have fun but you probably won't ever see them again. But because there are so few of us, unschoolers tend to keep in touch. I feel like the people I hung out with this weekend aren't just some people I hung out with for a weekend. They're my friends. That might not be as big a deal to everyone, but it usually takes me a really long time to make friends. It takes me forever to open up and trust people, but at NEUC I met people I could be myself with right away. That is absolutely invaluable, and I came away feeling so much more confident than I've ever been before.
And you know, it was partly about making friends with unschoolers, but in a more general sense it was about making friends with people my age who think. People who see stuff wrong in the world and want to fix it, people who haven't been beaten down by the system. I already have some friends like that, but they're internet friends who I never get to hang out with as a group, in person. Spending time with a whole group of young adults who think talking politics and playing games are equally fun was refreshing. I'm at the age where most people have just become free and just want to party and not do or think about anything serious. It's just so cool seeing how unschoolers skip that rebellion and are really useful, interesting, awake people their whole lives.
Also great was seeing how eager unschoolers are to learn! I grew up eager to learn, so I know how that happens, but being an adult watching kids excited to learn is a whole other matter. The thing I hated most in school was that the other kids always seemed to be deliberately avoiding learning. They got defensive if you told them something they didn't know or would make fun of you for knowing too much about stuff. Unschoolers are excited to share what they know and excited to hear from others. It's awesome.
Now, while I'd like to emphasize what a supremely epicly fantastic fun weekend this was, there were a few downsides I also feel the need to say something about:
-While I wasn't with the little kids most of the time, I did keep hearing a lot of conversations about "unparenting". Some of the parents seemed to be just allowing their very small kids to run around fully unsupervised. Now I'm not advocating helicoptering or anything - I do think kids should have the freedom to do things independently, especially at an unschooling conference! But when things are getting broken, other hotel guests are being disturbed, and some parents have no idea where their kids are, something is wrong. Unschooling doesn't mean that there aren't other people in the world who also have feelings and rights. Not having arbitrary rules in your family doesn't mean kids don't have to follow the rules of a public space.
-In some of the talks, there were a few incidents of... um... oversharing. Part of respecting your kids is respecting their privacy, but some people were sharing some very personal things about their kids. One child even covered his mom's mouth because she was sharing too much. Some things are private. If it would be inappropriate to share a certain kind of story about one of your friends, you shouldn't share it about your child. It is extremely unfair to the child, and quite frankly, there are things that other people don't want to know.
-There were also a few talks which seemed to be totally dominated by one or two people. It's great to ask questions of the person giving the talk! That's what they're there for! But if a session is only an hour long, and you ask questions for 30 minutes, then the talk doesn't get to even really happen. The person giving the talk is there because they have something to say. Others are there because they would like to hear it. Every single person who spoke made it clear that they'd be available to answer more questions at any time after the talk was over. Is it so hard to wait and meet someone in the hall? Even worse, there were incidents where people refused to leave the room when it was time for the next panel to start. I think this problem is in the same vein as the unparenting thing: some parents get the idea in their heads that unschooling means do whatever the hell you want. No. Unschooling doesn't excuse you from basic courtesy.
-I also heard several conversations about cliqueishness. I didn't really feel this myself - I'm pretty content to hang around just a few people and don't care about being included in the big groups - but I could kind of see it happening. A group would go by and you'd always see the same couple of people trailing behind, being mostly ignored. Or a person would come sit with a group and get that icy "you don't belong here" look, or that "why are you talking?" look. I realize not everyone is going to be friends with everyone else, and that people are there to hang out with their friends. I get that. But everyone at a conference should feel welcome. If someone seems to be hanging around your group, clearly wanting to be included, invite them to join! If you see someone walking alone, say hi! If someone makes a joke that isn't funny, just let it go. The "what the fuck are you talking about, crazy person from space" stare isn't necessary.
Don't let the volume of what I've written about the negative stuff make you think it was a bigger deal than it was, though. Most of these things were fairly minor annoyances. The conference was soooo much fun, and I was so happy, and I didn't want to leave. I can't believe it will be a whole year before I get to see some of these people again. I've spent like the last 24 hours friending people on Facebook, making sure I can at least talk to everyone. I can't wait for the next conference!