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...
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.
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.
Today, I feel like this is storytelling itself. When I start a story, sometimes I have an idea of where we're going, and I can take the listener by the hand and lead them down the shadowed paths. But other days, I just start. I don't have any idea where we are heading. I just go, and the listeners go with me. None of us know where we'll end up, but they trust me to open the doors. Sometimes there's a dragon behind the door, sometimes it's nothing. I prefer when there's a dragon; otherwise, it's boring. I fear boring you.
I'm tap dancing around something here. Being a parent is hard. Trying to start a business is hard. Every word of this blog, I am second-guessing myself. I don't think I can write anything anyone else would want to read. It all sounds so self indulgent and silly. And this fear, this deep fear of being boring, of letting you down, dear reader, keeps me from saying anything.
A friend named this for me once: imposter syndrome. It's the fear that someone will figure out that I don't belong in the group, that my credentials are false. My mask will slip, and there will be a scream, "who do you think you are? You don't have any right to be here, let alone to speak!" It's a fear that shakes me to my core. A belief that I am an arrogant fool creeps into my mind when I start to write, whispering, "there is nothing you have to say. You have no views, no ideas, nothing worth sharing."
This is a lie. Somewhere in this post, there is something that will speak to someone. You will feel permission flowing around you to be yourself, because I am daring to be myself. And that makes it worthwhile.
I have this idea, that everything I publish here needs to be about storytelling and about only that side of my life, but when I read others' blogs, it's the ones that include something of the writer's daily life that keep me coming back. "Tell me how to live," I breathe, and perhaps by reading that,I can learn to order my life in such a way that it becomes beautiful.
I crave a beautiful life, one with light and shadow and adventure. People have those things in their lives, but they get stuck in the mundane, in all the stuff that isn't in the stories. I like to read the blogs that tell about the adventures, too, but also about the small details, giving them loving attention so that they can take on meaning and become holy.
Right now, I'm writing in a coffee shop. There's a young man in here who uses crutches and is wearing a Twins jacket. He is short and shuffles as he walks; he hasn't actually used the crutches since he came in. And he is making the counter staff uncomfortable as well as some patrons. He is not following the rules of interaction, and there is something in his manner that makes others want to tell him the rules. I just called him out for taking the sharpie from the pen caddy by the register.
I'll put it back, he said.
Yeah but you have to ask first. It's not yours.
I always put back what I take,he says, talking over me.
It belongs to her,I say, indicating the woman behind the counter. You have to ask.
I'm going to, he says, as if it was his plan all along. I was going to when you said something.
He wasn't, but I say nothing as he goes up to the counter. The woman says no.
This morning, my son woke me at 5:30 after he had a nightmare. It was about dinosaurs, he said, but he didn't offer any details. Sometimes, you just want to make sure someone knows who you are,and loves you. No one got any more sleep after that. I made bacon and coffee and toast. The pets were fed, and we all got dressed. As we rode to school this morning, I pointed out the crystalline hoarfrost on the trees and bushes. Spring is coming, when the air can hold enough moisture to allow those sparkling sugar-white tracings to line the leaves and bare twigs. I am hungry for the spring.
I am trying to uncover the plan for the next phase of my life. Classroom teaching needs to rest for a while. There is something in what I am starting now-- stories and parent work and writing, plus one-on-one tutoring and teaching-- that wants to grow into sustaining work, but it is still tender and new. I am trying to quiet the voice in my head that says, AAAAAGH! FIND A JOB NOW!!! Steady predictable work!!!
It's a voice that really wants to help me, to take care of me, so I try to be kind and gentle with it. But really, I am not sure that is the way to go. I think I can offer something of substance to the world, something needed and longed-for. I just have to figure out what it is, and the only way to do that is to walk forward into the shadowed forest, trusting that I will lead myself to the right doors, and that behind them will be, not a dragon, but my secret dreams.
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.