It's time for another exciting installment of the Interviews with Homeschoolers series! In this series, we share stories of awesome homeschoolers and homeschooled kids out there who have so much to share about their journeys in homeschooling. I was excited to get the opportunity to learn more about Teresa Bondora and her journey as an unschooling parent. Read what Teresa has to say about her children’s adventures in unschooling and how they are applying their childhood passions to their future careers!
My daughter will be 23 this week. She spent her teen years on the computer all the time watching Disney Movies, going to the mall to the Disney Store and concerts, and mostly showing no interest in anything. The time she spent on the computer was spent looking up random useless facts about Disney until she became an encyclopedia of “useless” information. This went on for years and I secretly worried that while she was a good reader and knew a lot of stuff about a lot of stuff, she wasn’t really doing anything that resembled anything like working toward any career or skill. I saw visions of her with kids, being left a single mom and not one skill to support herself. Or maybe she was going to live with me until she was 30. Or maybe she’d move out and back in repeatedly. Then she told me, she wanted to work at Disney World. “Great”, I thought. “A part-time, minimum wage job pushing a button on a ride.”
At 16 she got a job at a pizza joint but spent her off time talking about going to Disney. Meanwhile, her brother started playing Minecraft. All. The. Time.
Okay so, she’s working at a pizza place, he’s watching YouTube videos, and she’s saving her money for an annual pass to Disney World when others her age are saving for college. My unschooling experiment was failing right in front of my eyes, but this was their entire life that I was failing.
I had traditional schooling, taught high school science, wrote books. I had a life because there’s a reason for “school” and I was going to go down as not loving them enough to “care”. I can’t tell you how much I worried and cried and had anxiety.
I didn’t want to discourage her but seriously, an annual pass to Disney World when we didn’t live close to Disney World? She didn’t even have a car. But she was determined. At this point my son wanted to attend Minecon and it was held in Orlando so of course my daughter was coming. She got off work and we left for Orlando. Each day I dropped her off at Disney and my son and I went to Minecon. She was in heaven. While we were there she told me one day she was going to be a concierge at the Grand Floridian.
So one night we took the monorail to the Grand Floridian and I asked her to stand in front of the concierge desk. I took her picture there in that place in case, one day, she really meant it and needed some encouragement. She said I was silly.
When we got back home she hit the computer again, and this time more useless information. The history of Walt himself, his brother Roy, what the numbers on the doors on Main Street meant, the Google earth view, the roads there, Youtube videos on abandoned things, what happened to the parts of the 10,000 Leagues ride. I mean, seriously, deep into details of everything. She learned about the passes you can get, what they cost, how people are hired and paid, what jobs are there, details of the dates places opened, who designed what and how. She watched Disney movies from birth over and over and continued to do so until her brother finally just said no. I think it was after the 10th time Rapunzel played in the den he just said, “Enough!”
But then he couldn’t stop about Minecraft.
For me, though, I did love Disney. I took her there while pregnant with her. At age one, she picked out a Mickey Mouse shirt. She loved Pocahontas and we sang Colors of The Wind hundreds of times. Now I found myself looking back at that little girl and I started singing that song again. I was starting to think that if she lived with me until she was 30, that would be okay. And I got happy again about the way I chose to raise my kids.
So one day, she bought a bus ticket to visit her best friend in Florida for a few weeks. I drove her to the bus. She was more clingy than normal when we said goodbye. I got a sick feeling as the bus drove away. And then I got the phone call. She decided, if she was going to ever work there, she had to live closer. She told me she was moving in as a roommate with her friend in Pensacola and getting a job. Before the week was out, she had a job in the mall and she wasn’t coming home.
I sank. She was just gone. I cried, I worried, I had to listen to her not have enough money, to hear her complain about work or worry about transportation. And I couldn’t hug her or see her. This was my worst fear coming back to haunt me. Then she bought that annual pass.
No, not a car, an annual pass. And still with the Minecraft, my son, just obsessing over every modpack, every crafting thing you can do, just nothing but Minecraft. And here I am, a shining example of real work, people. I am an author. I have real books. Why did they not DO something? I accepted her new life and struggles, listened, helped where I could and over and over more Disney facts.
So one day she decided living in north Florida wasn’t fun and she didn’t like her job. She and a friend decided to go to Disney World, use her pass and sort of scout out the idea of living there. So she quit her job and went on a road trip. Yes. She QUIT her job. What in the world could she possibly be thinking? Normal people ask for time off, they don’t just quit! But since I had committed to this way of schooling and life and supporting her completely, all I could do was tell her how happy I was she was going to be in her favorite place and to please send me pictures.
I hung up and cried. I cried so much. I worried so much because now, NOW when the reality of not having any money, no job and can’t pay rent sinks in, she will come home broken and I will have to sit down and apologize for failing her in the most profound way a mother could ever fail her child.
Each day I got these amazing pictures of her, she was just so happy, smiling and happy. And unbeknownst to me, while there, she applied online to work there. And she decided, yes, she was moving there. Within a few hours of her application she got an interview online. Within a few days of that, she was asked to please come to Disney property and interview in person. It was her last day there. When her interview was over they said they were so impressed with her knowledge that they sent her to interview for a position that was harder to get and paid more. When that interview was over, they told her how impressed they were with her vast knowledge and hired her.
When the phone rang, I was thinking I would have to hear about how sad she was that her time there was over. And instead she told me she had 2 weeks to report to training in ticketing at Magic Kingdom at Disney World. And in that moment, I burst into tears for all the years of fear and terror and sadness and worry and all the joy any mother could feel. And in that moment I knew that she knew she was always okay.
That was 2 years ago.
Today she has moved into operations training and development, parades, and calls with more happy news about how much she loves her job.
About a month ago she called to tell me that a new position for a concierge opened up and she applied for it. As time went on and we didn’t hear anything we figured, “oh well.” Then last week she got a call. She got an interview. She didn’t know which resort. She was so nervous, she finished the interview and at the end of it they told her how impressed they were with her performance in those 2 years, her knowledge, the kudos from guests that went in her file, the things her superiors had to say about her and that she had the job. She doesn’t know which resort but in 6 months she can apply to any resort concierge desk she wants. And when that day comes and she’s standing behind the desk at the Grand Floridian, I will go there and I will take her picture. I will put the one from years ago beside it and I will cry more than I’m crying now. I worried for most of her childhood about her obsession with "meaningless" trivia and useless information. But it wasn’t meaningless for her. It was life training! To hear her voice on the phone and how happy she is, there are no words...I leave in a few days to celebrate her birthday with her in her magical world! She loves her house, she pays her rent, she has her car, and she loves what she does every day.
And today, my son has learned about chemistry from Minecraft and wants to go into physics. He and I are co-writing a book on the chemistry of Minecraft that I have wanted to write but didn’t have the Minecraft knowledge he had. Together we will forge a future into the unknown, one day at a time. And as one lucky mom, I get to play in the playgrounds of my children’s creation. What more could a mother ask for?
Teresa Bondora is the author of the Periodic Table of Elements Coloring Book and lives in Atlanta, Ga. She speaks on education and the sciences. You can find her with a cup of coffee, mostly in her car.
The opinions and thoughts expressed here are purely those of the individual, and do not reflect those of The Walt Disney Company.