Day Three – Saturday – is at once the hardest and yet most interesting day to write about. It was the busiest of all four days, and arguably the most memorable. Besides the violent monsoon and the subsequent flooding (I’ll get to those later) it was an emotionally taxing day for me personally, so very much like my feelings, this blog post will likely be a little bit scattered and all over the place as I re-live it.
I woke up feeling terrible on Saturday, burnt out and exhausted. Recognizing that I would be crawling by the end of the conference if I didn’t do something about it, I cancelled yoga and took the extra hour to myself. Some ibuprofen, a shower, some coffee and a proper breakfast – Yay! Breakfast! – later, I was feeling a bit better, at least physically.
One of my kids was going through something difficult… something that would have been difficult under the best of circumstances, and was made almost unbearable by the conference setting. As a parent, it’s always…. well, it was difficult (yes, I just used the word “difficult” three times in four lines.) It was difficult, (4) and I share it just to give a fuller picture of where my head was at on Saturday.
There was a chance of rain (Ha. Foreshadowing is great.) so we’d already planned to move the dinner inside, instead of on the pavilion. We also had the talent show to think about, and Jungle Jill, and board breaking, and air brushed tattoos. Mike also left at one point to go pick up Amy Steinberg from the airport, which left me somewhat… anxious. While he was more than content to work quietly in the background, (“This is your conference,” he kept telling me. ”I’m your assistant.”) Mike and I very much worked as a team, each of us doing entirely different things. There were questions that only he could answer, and vice versa. All of that to say, whenever one of us left the hotel – which only happened a handful of times over the course of the four days – I got a little nervous.
But all was well.
The rain started when he was gone, and it wasn’t long before it was coming fast and furious, complete with the unrelenting lightning, rolling thunder, and gale-force winds that make Arizona storms so exciting.
Up until that point, everything had been going smoothly. Jeff inspired everyone by opening up a conversation about passions. Sara & Matt Janssen taught us how to become gypsies. Matt Jones talked about reconciling unschooling with a corporate life. Jen Andersen reminded us all to tune out the outside voices so we can better focus on our own kids.
My parents had come set up their air-brushed tattoos, and there was a line 10 deep. There was button making and face painting and plastic bag print-making.
Everyone seemed to enjoy Jungle Jill despite the apocalypse happening outside:
And all the teens on the teen panel were wonderful and well-spoken:
I don’t remember where I was when the flooding happened. That sounds dramatic, doesn’t it? Like all those big moments in history, the ones where you always remember exactly where you were, and exactly who you were with. (Where were YOU when you heard about the flood? :-D) Anyway, I was in a lot of places, and it changed moment to moment, so I really don’t know where I was. I just know that at some point, there was flooding, and everyone that was attending anything downstairs made a mass exodus for the second floor.
In typical unschooling conference fashion, people hardly blinked. (Which is so, so interesting to me. We got complaints over much smaller things, but flooded out conference rooms? No problem!) We had to shuffle around the rest of the schedule a bit, the whole evening starting with dinner had to get pushed back an hour; and Erika’s SSUMs, Laura Flynn Endres’s main presentation, and Matt’s board breaking funshop all graciously went along with the flow. (See what I did there?)
The staff had to work harder than ever, there were some downed trees, and some definite scrambling. But no one was hurt. It was not a catastrophe. And in the end it just made for a little extra excitement.
Oh and the kids?
I don’t think they were too broken up about it.
And even the big empty rooms that were drying out turned out to be a great place to play:
Once the excitement of the flooding had died down, we all gathered for the Mexican dinner. It was the first time during the conference that everyone was really in the same place at the same time, and it was a little overwhelming to me. Not in a this-is-way-too-many-people-around-my-hamster-ball-of-introversion kind of way, but in a “We did this!! We created this thing, and people are here, and they’re happy and they’re chatting and they’re eating and they’re HERE and we did this” kind of way.
Looking around that room during that dinner was an incredibly powerful, surreal moment for me, and it’s one I will remember above almost any other. Granted, I was physically and emotionally spent by then, someone had just given me a hard time about something, and everything was a little extra…. raw. Still, what I felt was real, and it turned out it was just a precursor for what I’d feel an hour later.
On the surface, the talent show that followed the dinner can be summed up like this: a couple of skits, dances, music, and jokes interspersed between a whole bunch of little girls’ interpretations of Frozen’s Let it Go.
Beyond that though, it was So. Much. More. It was a whole roomful of people offering genuine love and support to every child who got up on that stage. It was parents encouraging – but never pushing! – their children into trying something new, and feeling their joy with them when they did it. It was people accepting and celebrating the uniqueness and beauty and perfectly imperfect quirkiness of each and every person in that room. It was people who knew they were free to…. well, free to BE. It was the whole of gentle parenting and unschooling and the conference all in that one moment.
And that’s what made me lose it.
I was admittedly on the precipice of tears the entire night, but the exact second they finally spilled over was when this lovely little girl was singing:
This is Tegan’s new friend, and Jennifer Andersen’s (of Our Muddy Boots) little girl. It was a big deal for her to get up there, but she did it. I looked at her, and I looked at her proud mom, and I looked at Tegan who was doing all the hand motions with her off-stage in solidarity (Let it Go is ALL about the hand motions). In that second, all the stress and the anxiety and the wondering and the worrying and the relief culminated in a sudden unstoppable rush of tears.
I was very grateful for the previous rain, because when I slipped out the door onto the walkway, it was cool and comfortable outside. There were a few kids running and laughing nearby, but it was otherwise silent and still. I stayed for but a minute, all by myself (there was too much of the evening left to totally check out) but I stayed long enough to cry, to breathe, to pull myself together, to feel gratitude…. gratitude for that moment, gratitude for the conference, and gratitude for all the people who came and made it a conference.
Until two days ago, even my husband didn’t know about that moment. In two minutes I was back in the room, and back to business as usual. And an hour later I was drinking white Russians and serenading everyone with Wrecking Ball. (Wait what?)
I share it with you now mostly because I’ve received so many really lovely comments of gratitude over the past two weeks, and I want you all to know what it all meant to me too, and what YOU all meant to me. I don’t know that I can truly put it into words, so my hope is that a glimpse into a vulnerable, private, tear-stained moment might give you some idea.
It meant the world to me, truly. And I thank you.