Friday, March 20, 2009

Pigtailed Assault Teams Storm State Park

Okay, more of them had dreds than pigtails and the assault guns were loaded with soft foam projectiles, but there were teams, that's for sure! We spent this past weekend, plus a couple days, at Roan Mt State park for the semi-annual ARGH campout (that's Autodidactic Radical Gathering of Homeschoolers to the uninitiated). The theme of the weekend, for the under-12 portion of the community: Nerf Wars.
I was intrigued to see that the free form shoot-em-up quickly sorted itself into entire nation-states of children. They had grand names (my favorite being The Carrot Allegiance), cultural identities, alliances, feuds, and complex negotiations that lasted for days. At any given intersection of trails it was possible to find two opposing bands of armed Patriots shouting a conversation that might have sounded like this:

"Throw down your weapons, we have you surrounded!
"You do not! What team are you, anyway?"

"We are the Huggers and you are invading our territory."
"Well, we are the Princess Sisterhood and we do not recognize the validity of your organization."
"Hah! I got you! You're dead now!"
"I am not, I have fifty thousand hit points."
"You can't have that many. You can only have five."
"I can have as many as I want."
And on and on.

Unschooling children are great negotiators. I've seen that before, but we don't live in an area with a plethora of unschoolers, so its not something I'm used to.

That's not to say they were all little angels. There were bossy kids and whiny kids and kids who refused to acknowledge anyone else's rules. There were hurt feelings as teams formed and reformed many times over the weekend. For all that, there was little real fighting. Kids raised without rules, it seems, don't have any more trouble getting along than other kids. If anything, while many of the kids had control issues, none were actively mean. Older kids sometimes stepped in to facilitate disputes - Ray did at one point - and parents of younger children sometimes trailed along at a discrete distance in case anyone slipped in the mud and got hurt.
I confess to having spent the first day and a half fretting. I needn't have. I know my family, after all, but arriving at the ARGH gathering, I was the only family member who actually knew anyone at all (and most of those from online). I watched George and the kids lurk around the edges of groups and I fretted: surely I'd made a horrible mistake and they'd all be miserable. Silly me.

As soon as Mo settled in, she was happy to rampage through the campground with one nation-state or another, shooter in hand. Ray lurked and scoped and then all of a sudden was walking around with a group, staying up all night, exchanging email addresses. George took the longest. He didn't have alot in common with the other dads, and the kids weren't little enough to give him comfortable access to the world of moms for the most part. Eventually Mo dragged him off to a dress-up party, though, and got him settled. By evening's end he'd discovered bananagrams (have you played? its sooooo fun!) and the next day he discovered hiking trails. The pix are all from his hikes (new camera, I haven't a clue how to use it yet).
I had a fantastic time, once I stopped fretting. I knit and chatted and chatted and knit and hung out and played bananagrams (gotta get me some). I got to meet some of the wonderful people I know from online and see their kids in person. In case you are on the same lists as I but haven't had a chance yet - De (Bigwylma) is warm and personable, Faith has great hair and a wonderful smile, Kelly and Gail never stop talking! Kelli is fun and wonderful and has the most adorable curly headed boy (George was a curly headed boy, once, I'm partial), and Ren's every inch a drag queen. There were many more people than that, of course and I'm awash in names and faces (and needlework that purple scarf and its knitter... whatever your name was).
Unschooling teens are all gorgeous. I know I mentioned Kelli's (being partial to curls and also geekiness) but I was struck by the absolute beauty of the teenagers. It took me a couple days to figure out why, and I honestly believe its the unschooling. Without school to weigh them down, they have a lightness of spirit that schooled teens just plain don't. Even the quiet ones had that lightness. Even the ones dressed all in black, the freaks and the bad-asses. They weren't up all night knocking over dumpsters, they were up talking and laughing and... cuddling. Yeah, bad ass teenagers cuddling. I'm still reeling.