Thursday, June 28, 2012

waldorf, quakers, and us

My head hurts. Funny - I thought this blog was done, but here I am in the middle of my stuff. It seems just posting after a month unlocked the door, and now I've got a couple of posts halfway done, a couple more in my brain. I thought I didn't have anything to say, and now I've got plenty. For the moment, anyway.

How do we make decisions for our children? How much latitude do we give them to make decisions? At what age? Research (and common sense) tell us the brain isn't fully developed for a loooooonnng time after they seem pretty functional (like age 21 or something) and the young brain's judgement simply isn't able to distinguish blue from yellow.

When my son was two I sent him to a lovely Jewish preschool nearby - the same place Frances had been for her three-year-old year. I love this place; it's very sweet and warm and caring and it has a lot of integrity. I love that my kids learned a Hebrew prayer for before meals. I love that they brought coins and dropped them into a tzadaka box to give to those who have less.

We are not Jewish. I am a Quaker, and by extension my children are Quakers. (Super Cliff Note Description: derived from Christianity but only loosely connected now, Quakers have no ministers, no songs or readings. We sit in silence for an hour, believe strongly in "that of god in everyone," in the power of silence, and are probably most well known for our political stance on nonviolence. Here's more.) Mitch agrees with all the basic Quaker philosophy but can't get on board with the quiet, and he uses Sunday mornings to work. (He's chasing tenure - sneaks in hours at the office whenever he can find them. Ugh ugh ugh.)

Mitch and I had no problem sending our kids to a preschool of a faith different than our own. We liked that it opened up the conversation with the kids about how different people believe different things, and Hebrew is a pretty cool language to learn.

The school wasn't a perfect fit, however - I posted about some of that here - and while Frances was there I started looking around. What I discovered was Waldorf education, about which I am known to rave endlessly but won't this minute. So Frances was only at the Jewish school one year. When she turned four she started at the Waldorf kindergarten.

** I guess I need to pause here for some Waldorf details, to catch you up in case you're unfamiliar. Really, this should point to another post where I wax on, but I don't have one already written, so what you get are random details to give you some sense of the landscape. In no particular order.

  1. At the Waldorf kindergarten the kids make bread every Tuesday: grind the grain, kneed, grease pans, churn butter, chop apples for apple sauce. And that's what they have for snack that day. 
  2. They spend a half an hour outside first thing, and then go out later for an hour and a half every day - rain, snow - and let me remind you that last year we had 120 inches of the latter. We parents just make sure the kids are in appropriate clothing.
  3. There are chickens in the back yard. 
  4. They don't play on playground equipment, but take walks to the woods, or to a nearby park that's hilly and good for sledding or rolling down hills. 
  5. The children aren't allowed to wear characters on their clothes or lunch boxes or whatever. A generic cartoon princess is fine, but a Disney one is not. 
  6. Frances is often returned to me covered in mud. 

I always assumed Clark would go to the Waldorf kindergarten, RiverNorth, as soon as he was old enough. But this year he wasn't, so he enjoyed himself very much at the Jewish preschool.

In addition to the kindergarten, this past year RiverNorth did an afternoon program once a week. The kindergarten ended at 12:30 and the afternoon program started at the same time and began with lunch the kids had brought from home. On those days Frances also stayed for lunch (There was no way she could have been a part of the afternoon program - that would have meant she would be there 8:30-4:30 and whoa that would have done her in.) When Clark and I came in to pick her up on those days he got to play some with the afternoon kids who were already done with their lunch. One day as we were getting ready to leave Clark asked if he could stay for the afternoon program. I knew a slot had opened up, and the question made me pause. He was now old enough for the program - had turned 4 a month earlier. I thought it might set him up well for school next year, get him used to the space, maybe a small feeling of ownership of it, and the transition in the fall would be smoother. It sounded like a good idea.


It was a good idea in theory. In practice it was a disaster. Afternoons in general are hard for him - he's just so tired. His allergies are terrible and I'm sure exhausting, plus he's in that stage where he really needs his nap, but if he has one he stays up til 10pm. After his first day he said he didn't like it. Among other things, he said he sat in the loft by himself and didn't play with anyone, which wasn't at all true; when I talked to the teacher she said he played the entire time, seemed completely engaged, was seeking out other kids, and they were seeking him out too. But clearly he felt lonely. I get that. He was walking into a social group that was already established, friendships already made. What was I thinking?

In any case, his three afternoons there left him with a bit of a bad taste in his mouth. And at the end of this school year Clark said outright that he didn't want to go to RiverNorth, that he doesn't like it there, that he wanted to stay at the Jewish preschool, that his (adorable, sweet) friends were important to him and that he likes it better there anyway.

For a couple of days I was all twisted around, thinking that maybe temperamentally the Jewish preschool is better for him, and wondering if the gain keeping his friendships outweighed my reasons for wanting him at RiverNorth. Besides, was I just trying to fit him into my view of what's important to me? Was I trying to make him someone he might not be? (And yet, let's not forget that he is FOUR. Who is to say who he will become?)

In my confusion I wondered if Waldorf early childhood education is geared a little more toward the strengths that are girls', that maybe he really wouldn't thrive in that atmosphere. I talked with the moms of the boys in Frances's school and I thought hard about the activities they do. Things like dying silk capes and finger knitting definitely lend themselves to Frances's temperament more than Clark's. But there's so much large muscle movement - big heavy wooden blocks that they use to build walls for their imaginative play, rocking boards, logs to heave and move, wheelbarrows and shovels and push brooms, and all the outdoor play, which around way up here in the snowbelt  means a lot of sledding and snowball throwing. He would love that. I have no question.

Then I tried to think about my role as a parent. What I came to is that what is important to me is not beside the point, but is perhaps exactly the point. My role is indeed to shape the glass through which my children view the world. To show them the world's Truth as best as I am able. The issue is not where he will be more comfortable, but what experiences do I want him to have, not just for enjoyment's sake or attachments's sake (though both have their place), but because each experience influences the person he is to become. Turns out it is my job to make those choices for him at this age.

Of course.

And THEN it dawned on me - all at once in a rather dramatic and comedic realization - that we're not Jewish. Oh right! In fact, we are Quaker, and the Waldorf approach jives completely with Quaker beliefs, with the core of what I believe to be True. Why would I not send him there? In addition, because Waldorf aligns itself so well with Quaker values, I can use Quaker language to talk to him about why I want him there. This is who we are as a family, as a people. It is my job to frame that for him. When he's grown, he's free to convert to Judiasm, but for now this will be the view out his window.


I haven't wavered a bit since that moment of clarity. And now that I've got it straightened out within myself, Clark seems to be settling into it as well. Although I know his adjustment this fall may be hard, and he may not like it at first, coping with change is a good skill for kids to learn. He will be fine.

The blessing Clark learned at the Jewish preschool is in Hebrew, and is beautiful. But the one that Frances says at RiverNorth is

Earth who gives to us this food
Sun who makes it ripe and good
Dearest Earth, and Dearest Sun
by you we live
our loving thanks to you we give.
Blessings on the meal

This is who we are. This is the world I will offer to him. 

Monday, June 11, 2012


This parenting gig is emotional business. I dropped both kids off this morning for their first day at camp - Frances went there last year but this is Clark's first experience - and I almost wept watching them go off with their group. They were so big; they were so little. My heart was so full it ached.

And why? Why is it all so emotional? I suppose because we know we can't hold it, can't hold onto it, these moments. Can't hold onto them and their babyness.

I've been feeling the baby pull again lately, but I think it's nothing more than the longing for all of this to stay. It's the desire to hang onto the time when they need and love me so desperately. It's amazingly satisfying to be needed by another creature so completely. But, if I think back with honesty, being needed so is also extremely taxing and sometimes resentment making. Which is why I'm trying to keep my head about this and know that another baby is not the answer to the question.

The answer to the question is for me to get off my ass and go get something of my own.

The kids are signed up for this camp this week and next, 9-1 each day. This is the first time EVER that I've had both kids in activities all morning for FIVE WHOLE DAYS IN A ROW. I almost don't know what to do with myself.

My joy over this limited freedom makes me know that the answer to the question is not another baby, but me me me. What do I want to do in this world? How do I want to spend my time, my energy? Do I want to write? Paint? Organize food drops for a homeless organization?

I read a quote recently that said something like: midlife is when the universe takes you by the shoulders and says, stop fucking around and use the gifts you've been given!!

It's less scary to turn back to what we know - which for me these days is certainly babies and little children. But that's not the best reason to do it. Especially when I struggle with post pardem depression, etc. No, I need to go forward, into the world, not retreat from it to care for an infant. It is time. 

Friday, June 8, 2012

state of the union

I've gotten word that my far flung friends, the ones who use this blog as a way to keep up with the general tilt of my life, have been wondering what became of me. I've been stuck lately - unable to put down my thoughts, perhaps to collect them in the first place. And so, this here post will not be a theoretical comment on the general state of 21st century parenting, but a simple state of the union.

About 8 weeks ago, during the end of my last botox cycle - the time in which the migraines come back and I forget all about the miracle of being without them, and the noise that is my children feels like a thousand horses galloping across my brain - I called a friend who has his hands in a bunch of projects to ask if he needed help with any of them. One of the things he's doing is running a CSA (community supported agriculture - see here if unfamiliar), and he said one of the farms he uses needed folks during the spring crunch time. (Actually, he first said, "You want to work on the books?" to which I said, "Noooooo!!") So I set up a sitter for 2 afternoons a week and off I went to transplant seedlings to containers to sell at farmers' markets. I had been inside the greenhouse for all of five minutes, my hands in the dirt, before I thought, "Aaaaaaaahhhhhhh. This is heaven."

I wanted to keep my two afternoons out there forever, and I somehow tricked myself into thinking that was going to be the case. Then a couple of weeks ago the crunch time ended, the college students came home to work their full time summer jobs, and the farm didn't need me anymore. I cried. 

Working out there did my spirit enormous good. It was a very very good thing for me to have something outside of this house. Something of my own. Adults with whom to interact. Sunshine and vitamin D and open sky. And relative quiet. 

I was only away from the kids about 10 hours a week, yet it felt like ages, and it completely revived me as a parent. (Vacations don't even do that.) I've said before that bedtime is the worst time of day for me. The. Worst. I read a blog post about this issue recently and the author said bedtime should be in the morning when everyone still has their patience and good humor. Yes! But it's not. It's at the very end of everyone's rope, including mine. I've accepted this and no longer berate myself for passing off this time of day as much as I absolutely can. But! When I left the house after lunch and came home around 6:30, I found I loved bedtime! So much so I even told Mitch more than once that he could stay and work late if he needed.

I've been thinking about asking the other farms here (and there are many) if someone else can use my help. But then, the kids struggled with the change. Yet as I write this I am aware that their struggles were probably temporary - adjustment is hard - and the specific issues are ones I could certainly address with the sitter. For example, they discovered a new game - a sneaking game. Sneaking candy, sneaking into the attic into things packed neatly away (disaster in their wake), sneaking into my make up, sneaking off and covering Clark's face with marker. Maybe it's just a stage that would be happening with me here? Anyway.

Yet, they would adjust. And as I write this it's plainly clear to me that their having a mommy who hasn't run through all of her emotional patience would be a good thing.

In other news, we have a German university student coming to live with us for two months beginning in August. We got hooked up with her through a german colleague of Mitch's, who is a friend of the family. She forwarded us an email from this student who was looking for an au pair position. We emailed her back to say that we can't offer her that since I don't work, but if she just wanted a place to stay and a little spending money for sitting the kids now and then... We've skyped with her, and the kids are so excited. I'm excited too - it seems like too much to ask that I will be able to just say, "you okay w the kids while I make a quick grocery run?" Oh my. Not having the shlep everyone over there? Oh my. What worries me is how I'm going to take it when she leaves. I think everyone had better be prepared for the winds of depression to blow in.

Change of subject again: I think - I think? - that this blog is nearly done. I think, unless I go crazy and decide to have another baby. It's pretty clear to me now that this blog has been about how to exist in our adult bodies while caring for baby humans. How to do this thing with some grace. And although grace is what I'm trying to achieve now too (always, always), I'm not doing it with baby humans anymore. I'm doing it with small children. They are different creatures; it's a different planet, with a different colored sunset. I'm finding I'm not prepared to talk about it, at least in the same way. I would need to talk in riddles, or verse. Maybe that will be the next blog.

I'll leave you with:
Last night at dinner I was commenting that, because of my fabulous sinus infection, I can't taste anything. Dinner tasted like nothing.

Frances: What is nothing?

Clark: Nothing is nothing!


Clark: Mama?

Me: Yes?


Clark: Nothing.