Each January I try to compile a summary of some of our most poignant moments, experiences and projects of the closing year. As I spent the last month piecing together 2017 in photos and writing and hazy-mom-brain memories, one broad theme emerged.
But first I’ll start with our travel adventures. The year began by welcoming and photographing new babies in New York, Minneapolis and Berkeley. We tracked wild horses on the Outer Banks. We visited family in Minneapolis (again) and explored my old haunts in the city I’ll never stop calling home. We celebrated 20 years of friendship in Utah with my high school Swiss Semester group and their incredible families. We met sea turtles and collected shark teeth at Topsail Island. We hiked peaks in the Blue Ridge to take in the fall foliage spilling across the mountains. We explored frozen waterfalls at Hanging Rock.
We spent a lot of time at home too. We cleared a little trail system through the back woods, so we could take short walks without leaving the yard. We began our first landscaping attempts in the front yard to make it a more pleasant space to play and ride bikes. And, most significantly, we embarked on the great experiment of home education.
The overarching theme of our year was this: learning.
Last year, we watched in deep, jaw-dropping disappointment as the world into which we thought we had brought three lives began to devolve around us. Ignorance won a seat at the head of the table, and with it, the unconscionable willingness—and even insistence—of so many to leave the world significantly worse than they found it for our kids and their peers. Empathy, critical thinking and evidence-based reasoning? Out the window.
So as parents, we spent a lot of our year learning what our kids are up against. The blinders came off. On the flip side, we also watched and learned from individuals and organizations who rose up and unified to fight for social justice, for science, for women, for the environment, for our kids and their generation. Now we better understand how to prepare our kids’ hearts and minds for their future, and who our allies and role models are in these efforts.
These realizations greatly informed how I defined teaching and learning in our homeschool. A few months ago, I wrote a post about some of my educational goals, which center on empathy, global citizenship and critical thinking. The year reaffirmed our commitment to raising children who value life-long learning, who will seek knowledge over ignorance at every turn, and who will demand no less from the world around them.
By removing the noise of schedules imposed on us by the traditional school system, we freed up more time for the girls to immerse themselves in meaningful activities without the rush, without the busyness, and with plenty of time left over for one of the most crucial aspects of childhood: free play.
An unexpected high point of our learning experience last year was that the girls decided they wanted to start horseback riding, and we became more of a part of the stable community than we otherwise could have been. (A heart-felt thank you to their wonderful and wonderfully patient instructor, Kelly, and to the owner of the stable, Piper.) The girls also had incredible experiences at writing and arts camps at Duke Lemur Center and Carolina Tiger Rescue—opportunities we may have turned down if we hadn’t started to manage our time in a non-traditional way.
Throughout the year, we also began learning how to navigate the peanut-laced world in a slightly different way after Cricket completed her peanut desensitization clinical trial (oral immunotherapy) at UNC in January 2017. For 32 months, the trial was a large and emotional part of our daily lives—a story for another day. The fantastic news was that Cricket passed the last challenge, demonstrating she had increased her ability to tolerate peanuts from a few specks of peanut dust to16 peanuts.
The problem is that the immune system is a fickle thing and won’t promise the same results every day. Since the trial, Cricket has reacted twice to the daily dose of peanut she takes to maintain her desensitization, now six Reese’s Pieces, which is far less exposure than the amount she took during the last challenge. These reactions serve as reminders to us that desensitization is not a cure; it simply offers Cricket the best level of protection available from a life-threatening reaction. So with that information we move forward, navigating restaurants and birthday parties and airplanes, operating in that gray area of trying to learn to loosen some of the reigns but never truly knowing where the limits lie that day.
Yes, I’d say learning was our grand theme of 2017. We learned a lot about disappointment. We learned a lot from people doing deeply good work. We learned how to buck cultural norms when they stood in the way of our family’s dreams.
My goal for the coming year? It’s simple: to keep actively and intentionally learning.
I'm Julia Soplop, writer and photographer. I believe there is something profound in bearing witness to moments of joy and pain in others’ lives. My husband, three girls and I live outside of Chapel Hill, NC. You can read more about me here.