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I already seem to have a different kid.
For just 3 days now, I have been even more focused on connecting Ethan with nature, keeping all media out of his life, and keeping my explanations and talking to a minimum. The reason for this has been a sincere recommendation from some wise waldorf-inspired mamas/teachers at the local waldorf coop, who I recently had the opportunity to meet and “pick their brains” regarding Ethan’s life stage and whole-child well being. (P.S. I will be enrolling him in a 3-mornings a week kindergarten [his final year of kindergarten in waldorf education] for next year. P.S.S. I have been working again- a small bit each week, from home, with a cherished former client, which will allow me to pay for his part-time schooling. Serious answer to prayer!).
Without going into too much detail about Rudolf Steiner, Waldorf educational philosophy, anthroposophy, etc (for one thing, I wouldn’t be an expert enough to explain it right, and for another, you may not find it very interesting), I will try my best to sum it up as this: Ethan’s adult/thinking/intellectual side was awakened prematurely via adult logic, correction and conversations, over-explanation, etc etc. So he has what appears to be this verbal adeptness, sharp-witted tongue, analytical nervousness, and constant flow of thinking and conversation (as opposed to the “dreamy state” of childhood, play and imagination dominating rather than watching the clock, working on worksheets, worrying like an adult, etc). Sure, some of this is normal development, some of this is Ethan’s personality – but quite a bit of it has come off to me, for some years now, as imbalanced, disconnected, unassimilated… that is to say, the intellectual part is so curious, eager, anxious, reasoning, while his physical, emotional, spiritual self he carries kinda uncomfortably. Hopefully that makes sense.
It has been sort of an experiment for me to start in this direction. I have said for many years that we, as a homeschooling family, “set up tent” very near the Waldorf “camp”. There’s been a lot of it that resonates with me, particularly the vision of early childhood being unencumbered by the adult world. That has been extra hard to facilitate at home with Ethan, however, – for many reasons that I won’t go into because it’s not really all that necessary. But having hit this wall of confusion about Ethan’s, for lack of a better word at the moment, behavior, through observing things that felt “off” for me and have been quite a challenge that I didn’t know how to tackle. Some advised public school (keep him busy, put him with lots of kids, feed his intellect?) and others unschool (same reasons, along with “giftedness” and being able to accelerate by following his own interests), but rarely did I consider what I am actually most drawn to as a child development stance in the first place: that he needed to be held close, play more, relax more, more time outside, more time in open-ended handwork (no “right” and “wrong” way, no self-critique) and no time with media (preconceived images, electronic entertainment, stunts his own ability to imagine and be creative, “teaches” too much at too young an age, etc etc), and talked to LESS.
So that is kinda the why and how with this more focused next chapter of homeschooling/parenting for the kids.
While the playschool (which was waldorf-inspired) that I did from home a few days a week last Fall was where my heart was at, I honestly felt so discouraged by Ethan’s reactions to things – wondering if this approach fits him or not… In this world we live in, a child who does have some media exposure, a variety of peers, and is exposed to any of the massive amounts of commercialism out there, I think it is really difficult to craft this “beauty bubble” of felted wool animals and wooden toys and songs and backyards… I took it personally when he begged for battery operated remote control cars and plastic ramps and movies and candy and jump zone and bla bla bla! I second-guessed myself all the time, and coming from that place of lacking confidence in if what I am doing is right for this child, I didn’t quite know where MY boundaries were, or if it was even OKAY to keep certain things from a kid if he thinks he wants them, or just HOW to do this whole thing without compromising our families values?! Giving in didn’t feel good, being rigid didn’t feel good – I was so unsure!
But then I spoke with the mamas from the coop, was reassured that all of us moms are going through it with this generation of kids and the influences around our families and so on. And then I was given something I think I really needed: the validation that it is okay to be the Mom, in the role they call the “Authentic Leader”, to say – “no” but with confidence and without huge, weighty explanations (i.e. “no, we can’t buy the plastic car because the earth is dying from over-population and pollution, so let’s go learn about carbon dioxide and leaching and landfills and global warming so that you fully understand the implications of XYZ that has marketed to you by the Powers That Be who only have their bank accounts to be concerned about — which as it turns out is ANOTHER reason I won’t buy that car because we have no money.” – YES, that was an only slightly exaggerated version of my answer.) I thought, he is so curious, so verbal, so intellectual – he seems to “get it” so why not tell him the truth? Be straight with him. Right?! Lol
So lately I’ve been praying and trying to be very awake and mindful of how I answer, what I say to and in front of the kids, and keeping things simple and firm, and often playful if necessary. In light of “zero screen time”, (we were already a fairly low-screen family compared to mainstream parenting, but I gave in often with many conflicting thoughts and feelings about it): I’ve kept PBS Kids off, not gone to the library for computer games, not even put on background music (not just because it’s a Waldorf thing, but I actually tested the background music thing on Ethan by asking if he wanted it while we wet-on-wet watercolored, which he replied, “No, I can’t paint very well when there is noise in the room”!) I’ve been trying to remember that while kids deserve the respect and courtesy and empathy you would give another adult, they are NOT mini-adults, and they need the guidance and the strength of their Leader to help them navigate.
I feel like I should just pause here to say — I know not everyone fully agrees, and that, especially with the unschooling-type folks whom I also totally get, some of this is actually counter to what they think kids need (trust, choices, freedom, equality, self-directed?). I think there is a balance to find between the two extremes, for sure, and one that I am always on the look out to find But for now, I feel, personally, a deep intuitive response to this approach with my kids at this time. I feel this is the best way in which to guide them into balance through childhood of unhurried, natural play; with all the choices about what food is served, what toys are played with, what the media policy will be, what time is bedtime, etc made by the loving adults in their lives – not them. Besides, they will have plenty of time to worry about all the responsibilities and choices later. I respect all the hard-working, well-researched mamas who are doing things differently with their broods, and would never intend to put anyone off by talking about this approach as the ONLY “right” way. It is, however, the way that feels best for us. Moreover, it is the approach I feel my children and I need to bring healing to our home — and our homeschooling.
So far, I have been really impressed – had I any doubts and skepticism about the effects of going “all in” with the “waldorf way” right now, I have been gradually shedding them in light of the effects it is having on Ethan, particularly.
This was a child who I thought could NEVER be alone, would chatter my ear off, beg (intellectually) and reason and argue til he was blue in the face. He was nervous, anxious about the clock all.the.time. (for the last 3 days we have put black tape over all the clocks in our home!) and frequently out of bounds in his body, not understanding boundaries. While always a great kid, with a heart of gold and good intentions, he exhausted me to a point that I questioned whether this was just a “normal phase” or just his “personality”. I have sensed in the last year or so that he felt put-off by others, while highly self-critical in his efforts (darn perfectionist mama’s influence, to be sure!), that others were annoyed by his energetic-out-of-bounds-ness and talkative nature, and he seemed sort of adrift in a sea without a lifeline – without a constant strong source keeping him grounded. He seemed like a child who didn’t feel safe. Clingy to anyone who showed him attention, which he hoped would be every one.
I could say a million good things about Ethan – this almost-6 year old kid ROCKS and I couldn’t be prouder of him – and I’ve shared such things many times on this blog. But the above is what had begun to frustrate and concern me on and off in recent years, which is why I’ve shared them here. Most of my close friends and family are aware of these observations and have a few of their own.
Right now, however, I’m feeling hopeful, like a weight has been lifted as I’ve been given the permission to adopt a PLAN and that the implementation has been easier than I thought it would be, and the effects I am observing this past week, of both Ethan as well as myself and MY behavior, are really validating me, like a whisper in my heart: we are going in the right direction, yes, yes, more of this!!!
Ethan has been responding with a tremendous amount of love and affection towards his family, a sort of gratitude has been coming off him. He keeps smiling, and hugging, and saying he loves us. He seems positive, less critical, even more courageous. When I tucked him in last night, after ample time together, oatmeal maple-sweetened cookies he helped make, “tea time”, lots and lots of books and a story I made up for him, songs, candles, warm foot bath – he said, “I like the way I feel at night when I go to bed now. I feel safe.” (The previous routine was less heart-felt: dinner, bath, commands to get dressed, brush teeth, pick up room, read one book, sing a quick song, say a quick prayer, off to bed and a warning, “go to sleep, okay? Do NOT talk anymore!”) I’m trying very hard to infuse my time around Ethan with more acceptance, less talking, more hugs, more magic/less logic, more mindfulness. Parenting is a lifetime’s journey, but whenever I get back to these basics, for me, it feels right. Connected, balanced, thoughtful, and nourishing.
Another validating moment: I’ve mentioned that we have put black tape over the clocks. This was in an effort to help him forgo his obsession with the clock (no, really, I mean it!), to instead relax, find a flexible rhythm, and to keep him and us more involved in the present moment instead of living in and worrying about the future. But we did so with little explanation of WHY, just kinda “ho, hum, let’s not worry about the clock, what is the sun telling us to do?” kind of thing). Well at first he found this frustrating, of course, but after days of lamenting that we were keeping the time hidden from him – he was going off to bed with no idea of the actual time (roughly 8, at usual), and he remarked, “Now I kinda like that you guys won’t show me the time – I feel like the days are really looooong and fulllllllll and I’m so tired and just ready to go to bed!” *phew, I wasn’t torturing him!*
And the boy that can’t stop talking, who will never give me space, who will never be alone? Well, he seems to be getting balanced even this early in the new program: a boy who is reconnecting with nature through “practical work” (google it in waldorf terms if you need more explanation), who has been getting up before me and heading straight to the sandbox, a boy who can stay in the backyard for hours and hours in his world, hammering things and swinging and digging – therapy for the child who two weeks ago couldn’t think of anything “to do” and lived by the digital numbers on the oven to tell him how long until XYZ would happen. I am so happy for him – to see him just be a child is a mother’s delight.
Isn’t this what childhood should be; long, full days of nature and play and homemade food, leaving you eager for the pillow and the sweet dreams you’ll have? No worries about adult things, no quizzes on how to spell or add, no scientific names to remember, no critics of your work through grades or gold stars or punitive punishments for your mistakes? With an adult who is capable, composed, playful, warm but firm, where boundaries are clear and expectations are reasonable and age-appropriate? Where adults do not yell or hit or mock or belittle, or lack respect and virtue? Simply the child’s world of imagination and goodness and singing and experiencing through the senses the beauty all around them? Simple. Natural. Magical. Slow.
I think so.