Maybe if I had read or watched Game of Thrones, I'd be better prepared for the winter they say is coming. In fact, they say it's coming tomorrow night. Weren't we just out, reveling in crimson and yellow-gold? Wasn't it just time for this?
and now they are telling me to expect this:
At least the boy has boots. My boots need repair. But it's the deep cold, and the dark, that I am afraid of. I feel unready. Maybe it's time to bake more bread and pies, and make kettles of soup, and knit up all the yarn.
Or to tell stories. Come to the Linden Hills Farmers Market, Sundays at noon, and warm up with a story.
They have their own stories and struggles.
no one wants to hear how tired you are, how late you were up,
how the baby wouldn't sleep,
how work was hard, or just long.
No one really wants to hear about your aching feet, or head, or heart.
Unless you are willing to punch through the tired, the ache, into the source, into the deep
Pull back the tight-wound layers of it all, the election,
the dishes, the words bitten back, the ones you regret,
and take a moment to tell me
what the moon looks like tonight.
tell me about your anger, or your sorrow, or your need for something
you can't quite name.
It's so much more than tired.
No one wants to hear
they want too much to see, to touch, to hold.
to hold you up.
to hold your hand.
to hold on when you are so ready to let go.
I'm tired of battle metaphors. I want a metaphor of building.
less tearing, less fighting, less struggle.
No one wants to hear how tired you are.
I want a soft pillow, and a gentle hand, and strengthening sleep, not just for me.
for you, and for them, and for the person who made you angriest.
Goodnight. Tomorrow, the sun will rise,
and we will go on building.
It's colder in Scotland than in England, or at least, it was when we took the train north together. I was spending my junior year of college at Oxford, and my mother flew out to visit me after Christmas. It was a visit I look back on and wonder at -- it was that year that literally changed my life, the best year of college, the year of self-discovery and adventure, and my mom took the long plane trip over the ocean to visit me during the ten months I was away. My grandmother had left her some money, and she was determined to enjoy that trip to the fullest. I met her at Paddington Station, full of confidence in my understanding of the UK after three months of living in the terrace house in Marlborough Road.
The first night, we stayed in a student-rate hotel in Belgravia or something like that, and I don't think either of us slept a wink. We saw Cirque du Soleil in the Albert Hall. She got to hear me sing in the chorus for Mozart's Requiem at St. Martin in the Fields. We toured the Tower.
A dear friend was in England, visiting family, and had extra days left on her BritRail pass. When she headed home, she gave us the pass. What does one do with free time, some inherited cash, and free rail travel? One goes to Scotland, to Glasgow.
It was my mother's second trip to Scotland, my first. We arrived at night, but it could have been late afternoon. It's dark in January in Scotland. We found a hotel, settled in for the night, and planned our adventure. We had a few days before I had to be back for the start of term, when she'd meet my friends and choir mates and drink with us in the college bar and endear herself to everyone.
I can see our visit in flashes -- the extravagant meal in a beautiful restaurant, rose pouchong tea surrounded by Charles Rennie Mackintosh design, the dark stone of the cathedral -- but what came back to me full force this weekend as I listened to the Battlefield Band on Prairie Home Companion, was that we attended a concert with bagpipes and fiddles and a full orchestra. I think it was Phil Cunningham's Highlands and Islands Suite, maybe? I don't know for sure. All I know is that the moment when the band fell away and the pipes took over, that characteristic change of rhythm from skipping to skirling, sounding through my car's stereo on Saturday made me break down in sobs, as January, 1997, slammed back into my mind. Funny, though, that it was that memory, and not the dozens of other times we listened to the pipes together. Mom loved bagpipes; we shared that love. I was glad to find a piper for her funeral last spring. How could we send her onto the Low Road, without the sound of mourning and battle and victory and longing that the pipes have?
My mother's birthday is this Saturday. My stepdad is hosting a dinner in her honor, and some of us who loved her will gather and eat and drink and laugh and cry. She was loved by, and loved, so many -- there were not enough chairs in the funeral chapel for everyone who came to her funeral -- and I wish I could call her and ask about that concert. Instead, I guess I'll buy a recording of the Highlands and Islands Suite, and let the music carry me back again to the darkness of midwinter Glasgow, and to the brilliant light and warmth of my mother's love.
As you may know, I left full time teaching around 2 years ago. It was painful and hard, and in retrospect, the right thing at the time, but my God, it was awful. My story now, is that I left being a class teacher, because I needed to spend more time with my family (true!) and wanted time to pursue storytelling (also true!) and to find my own direction again. However, it is also that I was really, really struggling as a teacher. Being in a lot of other classrooms over the past months as a substitute, I have learned so much about what I was missing.
I spent my first eleven years as a teacher working in one small, developing school. I knew the families I was working with, and they knew me, and had watched me grow from a fresh-out-of-college girl to my full stature as a teacher and leader in the school. My classroom style was tuned to working with small groups of students, 12 at the most, who came to me with a really strong early childhood foundation. They could be left alone in the classroom for a few minutes while I stepped into the office to take a few deep breaths and check my mailbox. I had the freedom to throw out lesson plans and walk to the beach with my class when the weather was fine, and to construct my day-to-day curriculum as each year unfolded. I am proud of my work at that school, and so very proud to have taught the amazing young people who came out of it -- if you know them, you know how fantastic they are. It was hard work, with many, many long meetings. The school brought out the best and worst in all of us, and it was like a big, noisy, argumentative family in many ways.
I stepped into an established school, where I soon learned the school I came from was viewed by some as "not a real Waldorf school", and I tried to make it work. Waldorf teacher training is focused mainly on understanding the development of human consciousness throughout childhood and adulthood; my training as a teacher was heavy on the "why" and intentionally sketchy on the "how." I carried with me an assumption that any classroom issues stemmed from either a lack of proper inner attitude on my part, or on some constitutional characteristic of the child in question. The cultural differences led to a huge number of mistakes on my part, and the larger class and wider range of skills and temperament demanded a very different approach than I knew how to take.
I lacked some key skills in classroom management, planning, and workplace etiquette. On top of this, I had a child who was still nursing, and I slept around 5-6 hours a night. This was a recipe for disaster. My colleagues and I were not working from the same playbook; I was exhausted and ill; there was a disastrous "mentoring" visit from a master teacher. In short, we all could have seen the writing on the wall from the beginning. I needed another 5 hours in my day -- three to sleep, two to plan.
So, here is what I wish I had understood four years ago:
I want to elaborate more on some of these, but I'm tired, and trying to get more than 5-6 hours of sleep a night. My son finally started sleeping through the night 2 years ago, so I'm off to enjoy sleep interrupted only by cats, the dog, and my own ridiculous dreams...
don't eat the story!!
Yep. Today was supposed to be the day I open the gates for all of you chomping at the bit to get your hands on Magical Bedtime. And I have opened the oven door, poked it with a toothpick, and it just isn't ready.
I have a lot of excuses. You aren't interested in those. They're likely just like yours: end of the school year, so busy busy busy, one thing after another, yadda yadda yadda.
What do I have for you, then? A little smidgen. A taste of things to come. Here's how it works:
You fill in the little contact box below with your email address. I will send you a link to a FREE STORY. Yes. Free. For you and your children. It's simple and lovely, this story. It's not too long.
So, just fill in the box, and get your own audio copy of "Masha and the Bear," as told by me. In return, I ask that you send others my way. Over the next few weeks, I'll make other stories available to you, and I will also be doing a series of Magical Bedtime posts. By summer's end, look for a beautiful ebook and set of all-new stories to purchase and have as your own.
As a Waldorf mother, I'm not the greatest. My son watches a cartoon show on my computer or my partner's about once every two weeks. We are inside right now. We may or may not go out in the rain later. I do not keep all screens turned off around my son, and we talk to him way too much, with too much intellectual question-asking and explaining.
As a mother, I am not that bad. My son is fed, dressed, and loved. He eats fruit and vegetables and whole grains daily. He goes to preschool with lovely, sweet teachers, and he is tucked into a safe, warm bed every night. His toys are a mixture of natural and mainstream, thanks to loving grandparents. I have sought out a faith community that supports our family and offers him ways to connect with his highest good. I read and tell stories. We bake together. I offer regular hugs and snuggles and tell him how much I love him. We brush his teeth together, and he has a regular bedtime routine.
See how that second list is longer than the first? Take a moment, parents, and list all the ways you are doing well. I bet that, all things considered, you are doing pretty well.
There is a lot of pressure in the Waldorf parenting community to be "perfect". To have the right toys, the right paint on the walls, the right meals, the right way of speaking to your child -- all noble pursuits, but not an end in themselves. We can easily lose sight of the goal here, lost in a forest of material desires, and we forget that the point is to help children develop into loving, responsible, INDEPENDENT adults. When we abdicate our own authority of what is good, beautiful, and true, to Pinterest and mommy blogs (even this one!) and high-minded books, we are not being worthy models of imitation (big goal of Waldorf early years parenting)! We are showing our children that we are not to be trusted -- we don't even trust ourselves!
Take a breath. Know that you are capable of extraordinary parenting, living, and teaching, and that the greatest gift you can give your child is confident, loving parenting. Trust yourself. Do your best, and forgive yourself for being imperfect. Celebrate the journey -- take what works for your family, for you, from those sources that inspire you, and let go of the rest.
I am working on yelling less and listening more. On making magical moments, and of letting myself work hard when I need to work. My child is playing baseball with a soft foam ball and a mailing tube while I type this. I pitch a few balls, then type a few lines. It's working today.
Take a breath. In, and especially out.
Hello, dear readers. I have been a bit of a reluctant writer these days. I am hesitant to share anything that isn't really stellar, and therefore I have shared little. Since I want to keep the energy flowing, I am going to offer a few links I've been loving lately. Look! Alliteration!
here is a beautiful post from Rachel at .Clean. She makes divine natural body and skincare products, and she writes beautiful things.
because Leonie makes me so happy. She went on a retreat. by herself. and lived to tell the tale. hee.
I can't keep from singing along with this song. Raw, honest, live, and awesome.
go make some gluten-free play clay. you will have fun. promise.
ready to do some writing? here are some amazing questions to get you started.
a delicious piece from Martin Shaw on the quiet loss of lovely ways of speaking...
there. something to keep you busy for a bit...
Last night, as I was putting the Boy to bed, I once again started telling a Boy and Cat story without any idea where it would lead. None. This is how many of the stories start -- sometimes I have a plan, a particular shift I want to help with, or a theme, or even a little inkling from something he's said -- and I just have to roll with it. Story will walk into the room and take over, I find, if I can just be present and allow things to flow.
So, I started it the usual way, with the boy waking up, getting dressed, having breakfast with his mom, and then the cat asked him if he was ready to go. Off they went, through the Pathway of Growing Small, and across the clearing to the Apple Tree Palace where the Queen of the Tinies lives. This is where Story stepped in; I had laid the foundations, and I got the characters to where they needed to be for the magic to happen.
Here where we live, Spring has been playing some funny jokes on us. She arrives for a few hours, or even for a day, smiling in sunshine, coaxing daffodil shoots out of the earth, and then, her rough-breathed brother, King Winter, roars back into town with his hounds and his pals on their motorbikes. Winter likes to throw his weight around. He can be fun, sure, slapping your back and handing you a hot mug of cider. He can be quiet, too, and bring a hush to the white-robed night. I think he came back for one more party last night. The trees outside are hanging heavy with wet snow and ice, and it looks like a fairyland. Very pretty, lush and austere at once.
So, Story sent the Boy and the Cat with their friends, Lily, Black-Cap Chickadee, and Baby Dragon, to find out the reason Lady Spring wasn't here yet. They found her in a blossom-scented orchard, embroidering flowers for the ground. She laughed and told them of misunderstandings and mistakes, and assured them she'd be along soon.
My own Boy fell asleep pretty soon after that. He nodded with satisfaction at the story, and I could see the truth of it in his eyes as he snuggled in his bed after the candle was out, just the nightlight glowing.
Today, I will let Winter have his little fun. And tomorrow, I will breathe a gentle breath, and welcome Spring. I hear we will hardly remember Winter by this weekend. That's the way it is with Spring -- the joy and wonder come in, the sweetness and ease, and somehow, the grinding dailiness of Winter lets go of our memories. I can't wait.
On Sunday evening, I was driving home from a student's house, and I turned on the radio. Krista Tippett was intervening Maria Tatar. I read Dr. Tatar's work on fairy tales in college when I was working on a semester-long project on Baba Yaga in Russian folklore. When I heard her talking as I steered the car down the cold freeway towards home, I heard a voice that was speaking to all I hold to be true about our need for stories.
Not so long ago in our human evolution, the day's work had to end at the end of day. True, there were tasks that could, and would, be done in the flickering dimness of firelight, but there was an acceptance that night was the time to gather closely around the fire, to share warmth and food, and, if you weren't entirely exhausted, conversation. In winter, when that twilit dimness extended for hours into the daytime, evening brought time for longer, more emotional tales-- "A sad tale's best for winter; I have one of sprites and goblins," says the doomed child of Shakespeare's Winter's Tale. Young and old alike took in these stories.
When I read and tell fairy tales, both traditional tales and well-crafted modern ones, I feel the thread connecting me to the women and men and children who heard these stories years and years ago. I feel the tug in my heart and my mind, to open to the journey of the story, which is the journey of humanity, the journey of life. In each moment, I find myself within the tale. Sometimes, I am not the heroine. Sometimes, I am the wise woman, or the weary king, or the magic horse. At a storytelling performance last September, the wild poet Martin Shaw stopped in the telling of "Tatterhood" and asked us who we were in the story, where were we? Everyone nodded. We knew we were there, we were in that moment. The story was living n the room with us, and we were living there, in the forest, in the castle, at the edge of the wood.
In my second year of college, I was going through the kind of soul-searching, identity-seeking journey of most young people. As I envisioned my conference project-- a year-long independent study on an aspect of my coursework-- for Russian language and literature, I felt my love for folklore and stories rising to the forefront of my mind. Together with my professor, Melissa Frazer, I envisioned a two-part project: a paper on the role of Baba
Yaga as both villain and fairy godmother, and a storytelling performance. The paper was adequate; reading it now, I see how much deeper I might have taken my research. The storytelling performance was more than adequate.
It was a chilly spring evening when my friends and classmates, and their friends and classmates, packed into the campus Teahaus, a tiny building in the center of the lawn. It had once been Joseph Campbell's office. Perhaps his spirit's echo was with us that night. I don't remember which tales I told. Probably, the evening included Vasilisa the Beautiful and Marya
Morevna. What I do remember, is the rapt attention of the students in the room, the quiet breath, the startled laughter and gasps of dismay. These were not children, really, these college students in their sweatshirts and jeans, living on coffee and cigarettes and Postmodernism. But they were desperately hungry for these stories. They talked to me about that evening through my senior year. Some recalled it to me at our reunion years later. It was not me they remembered, though. It was the stories, or more, it was the talisman within the stories, the gift of a moment out of time, and the satiation of a hunger carried from childhood.
Eugene Schwartz has written about how college students who are starved for childhood stories and play as children, seek it out in college, buying themselves stuffed animals and Lego sets, but those who had their wells of experiences filled with real, living stories and true heroes when they were little, decorated their rooms with modern art. Can it be, that by allowing children the kind of stories they need when they are small, we are equipping them to be real heroes as adults? Not the kind with capes and crowns, but the kind that sees the need and suffering in the world, and seeks to assuage it, and the kind that quests after the grails of justice and truth?
I don't know the answer to that question. All I know, is that I need stories, and I suspect you do, too. And if I need them now, as an adult, then I am sure in every fiber of my being, that my child needs them. I don't always have the strength or energy to find them within me, or even to retell "Sweet Porridge" or "The Little Red Hen", for the hundred thousandth time, but I seek out books with real stories in them, and I can read those aloud in the moments when I need to be fed on stories, too.
Spring is supposedly here, though Minnesota is laughing at that idea. Getting Boyo to bed early becomes more and more difficult as the days get longer. Stories help lure him towards sleep. Dreams are a kind of storytelling, too, and perhaps the dreamlike imagery of fairytales helps us to make the transition from the waking world to the world of symbol and memory we visit in our dreams.
Dr. Tatar talked about bedtime stories, and about the importance of that time of day for creating connections with children. I am at work on a resource for you, on creating a magical, comforting bedtime for your child, built around the gifts of ritual and story. There will be snack and story ideas, recordings of stories for you to learn and retell, tips for creating a cozy environment for sleep, and more! Not every evening will be sparking with twinkly stars and sweet, sleepy smiles, but the more often they happen, the more possible they feel.
All I can really tell you, over and over, is this: stories matter, and they are food for human development and growth. Like food, the kind of stories matters, too. Let's feed our children the best we can, without becoming so orthorexic that we cannot allow a little fluff now and then, too. Even the most awful drivel can contain a pearl.
This morning, Boyo and I made a wire ball filled with bits of colored wool. Lest you think I am the kind of mother who has lightweight silver wire and bags of colored wool batting just lying around the house, waiting to be put to use in some inspired craft or other, I will tell you that Boyo was given a subscription to Donni's gorgeous crafting boxes by his grandfather for Christmas. Each season, a box full of glitter and butterflies and flowers arrives with four all-inclusive craft projects; this was the easiest one. I was astonished at how much the little bag of wool bits expanded as we teased out bits to stuff into the wire ball we'd made. We had to stuff and tuck the soft bits of fluff into the edges, but it all fit. Then we pulled on outdoor clothes (Boyo put his over jammies), and went outside to hang it in the branches of the crabapple tree so the birds can tug out bits of soft wool to line their nests.
Friday's blog post struck a chord. I have never had so much response to anything I've written. Thank you so much. Since then, of course, I've been obsessively checking my blog stats and pushing down the anxiety rising in me -- now what do I do? I am fearful that I will never write anything that meaningful again, that I've peaked early, that it's all over. How can I go on?
Weekends are busy here. My partner works at our coffee shop in the mornings so that Boyo and I can ease into the day, so you would think it would be all Lazy-Saturday around here. Some of it is. There is time for lots of reading aloud. This morning, I changed sheets, made these pancakes, built a fort, and made the aforementioned wool ball. We took the dog for a walk around the neighborhood, ate lunch, and fought over where that lunch would be eaten. Exciting, no? Yesterday morning was much the same, only it had laundry in it, and I got to spend the afternoon with fellow alumni of my college, discussing Poe and Dostoyevsky and video games and mystery novels with my Russian professor; Faculty on the Road is a cool program, and I can't believe it's taken 12 years for me to attend a second one.
Tonight, it's back to my "day job" of tutoring. I feel like I am trying to fill my life like that wool ball, squeezing things in around the edges. Honestly, though, the more there is to put in, the better and more expansive I feel. I can't stand always rushing around, but I also cannot stand too much unstructured time. I need plans. I need ground to stand on. Once I have some framework, some wire, I can begin to fill in with all those gorgeous, bright bits of wool. Without the frame, the wool seems contracted and lumpy, and I have no idea how to begin.
I had never intended to be an at-home mother, but every summer since my son was born, it has gotten harder to go back to school, whereas I used to crave the structure and rhythm of school. Now I have to make my own rhythm, create my own routines. And it's hard. It's also hard to write this with my son yelling, "That's boring work! It's not fun for you! Stop writing and read to me!!" So, my publishing days are likely to be Thursdays and Fridays, when he is at school, and when I can sit quietly for a while and just settle in to writing. That will be a piece of wire for my frame, something to let me collect my little bits of color, and perhaps you can take them home to your own nests to make them more cozy and warm.
Thank you for reading.
Sara is a storyteller, writer, artist, teacher, wife, mother, and singer living in Minnesota. I write about storytelling, and about living a life with stories.