why our daughter goes to Waldorf Sarasota

posted in: family & community | 1

 

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I’ve been contemplating writing a post about Waldorf education for a long time now. Its been hard for me to know where to begin- I don’t pretend to be an expert on Rudolph Steiner or his education system: my eldest child is only three years old and obviously I will have to gain knowledge as I gain experience with the Waldorf community. I have much to learn. However, I myself always find value in the off-the-cuff opinions of amateurs, those people who are not yet experts and thus not beholden to whatever loyalty comes along with having expertise. I would assume that an expert in Waldorf education would tell you that Waldorf education is indeed phenomenal, and that person would also have all of the research and explanations necessary to carry that conversation. Spoiler alert: I am also going to say that Waldorf education is great. But I am going to talk about from the point-of-view of a random mom in the parking lot.

Before I had children, I, like many childless people, had a great deal of opinions on how children ought to be raised. One such belief was that children ought to have a hard time in school: they should have to painfully endure what the school system handed to them and by the power of sheer will and strength, they should then overcome whatever stress and misery they faced on a daily basis, to ultimately arrive on top, a glorious survivor of standardized testing and cafeteria teasing. Sure, this process should be scarring but only for the sake of character-building. Also standard testing was absolutely very serious and very important, for some reason that I could not actually articulate.

It was sort of easy for me to hold this opinion: while I certainly dealt with my share of normal stress and anxiety regarding school, I was overall a popular child who tested very well. Now that I am no longer an idiot, I know that this is not everyone’s story.

In fact, now that I have children of my own, I am not so eager to see them suffer. I do not wish upon them the stress-addiction that I believe most modern adults suffer from, that constant buzzing tension that I am still working hard to be rid of. I am not so at ease with the notion of them spending the majority of their childhood confined to a desk in a classroom with fluorescent lighting, learning to fill in testing bubbles. Its easy to forget that this style of learning is, historically speaking, absolutely new: the children of our ancestors would have learned at home or on the streets in their cities or villages, apprenticing themselves to the daily tasks that kept them alive and kept their household running. They most likely would not have to learn, as I did at the ripe age of 24, how to make a meal worth eating, or any other basic survival skill necessary for being human.

It is always dangerous to romanticize the past and I am not saying that I want to hop in my time machine. I wont paint a picture of an idyllic lost land of home-learning, I wont be offering a survey of how education has evolved over the centuries, nor will I be offering a critique of public schooling: I myself attended our local Booker High School, an experience that ultimately made me a better and more beautiful person.

What I would like to talk about, as a mother of two spirited little girls, is how good I feel about dropping my daughter Celeste off at our local Waldorf school.

It is not uncommon for me to be late when I bring my daughter to her nursery class because getting a baby and preschooler dressed and fed and into the car is not a task for the faint of heart. And while they never let on, my lateness is no doubt a bit tiresome for some of the staff. My lateness, however, has given me a wonderful gift: once Celeste is securely tucked into her classroom (a place replete with warm, wooden toys and comforting lambskins and the magical straw hat and apron-wearing Beings that we refer to as her “teachers”) I get to see the older children out-and-about learning their lessons. Yes, lest their be any confusion: by this statement I mean that they are outdoors.

They are outdoors with violin cases, with books, with loud and gregarious story-telling teachers, with basket balls, with watering cans in the garden. They are outdoors with each other, eating real food, hearing ancient tales, watching caterpillars eat the milkweed. And when I come to the campus again in the afternoon to pick up Celeste, there they are again, outdoors. In the weekly parent update that I receive by email which lets us know what all our kids are up to, I read more about the grade school children and their outdoor adventures: classroom camping trips, hiking, farming, swimming, planting, singing. Even more importantly, and what is most noticeable about these lanky, growing children, is that they are happy.

I know these children have classrooms, because I have peaked inside the windows to see their traditional wooden desks, their paintings on the walls, their instruments stacked up in corners. They must enter these rooms sometimes. Not that I mind seeing them outdoors all the time! It brings me a relief I can’t explain, especially in a world where it is not uncommon to see most children lost in digital devices even when there is a perfectly good climbing tree three feet from their faces.

Celeste comes home from her school singing these European-style folk songs that are gentle and earthy and always pertain to the particular season we are in. Don’t worry, I’m not here to bullshit you: like most modern little girls, this kid knows every word to Frozen’s “Let it Go.” I have not personally mastered the art of a screen-free household. Perhaps if I did indeed live in a German village where I could easily throw my children outdoors at any hour of the day and find on my doorstep a handful of scruffy, dirt-faced kids chasing each other around in their lederhosen, we would have zero need for Netflix whatsoever. As it stands, I live in a modern neighborhood in the retirement capital of the world: playmates are scarce, and many neighborhood children are barely allowed to leave their driveways without ardent supervision. Screen time offers me what the culture no longer provides: time for me to chop vegetables for dinner and hear my own thoughts. All the same, I am thrilled to know that my child is NOT staring at a screen while at school. I love hearing those sweet folk songs being sung by my little girl with the same joyful enthusiasm she uses when she pretends to be Elsa.

My love for Waldorf Sarasota is something I could easily write about for pages and pages. But naptime will be coming to a close shortly and I only crank out blog posts when my baby sleeps, so let me end with this: as I have mentioned, my two daughters are spirited. Their spirits are more precious to me than anything in this world. My eldest is so spirited that she regularly bests me in our arguments. My one-year-old is so spirited and scrappy that she can already best her big sister by bravely yanking one of Celeste’s braids when she, quite frankly, needs to be checked. I will honor their spirits in every way I can for as long as I live. And I know that the Waldorf community will partner with me, not dissuade me, in my efforts. So here we are and I believe here we will stay.

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PS- For those intimidated by the cost of private school, let me assure you that generous scholarships exist, otherwise it would not be an option for our family. 

PPS- The stunning photographs in this post were taken by our dear friend, musician Maria Levitov

PPPS- If you read this and arrive at some glorious epiphany and decide to enroll your children at Waldorf Sarasota, do mention my name. And then spread the world yourself! The enrollment fairies will shave $100 off the already fair tuition cost for each new family that enrolls at your recommendation.  

one year

I ate porridge in the hours before you were born. I will tell you that the porridge was warm and sweet and I ate it sitting on the ledge of our home fireplace. I won’t tell you that giving birth is easy for me: it seems to require a kind of surrender that I have not yet mastered. Still, I felt lucky to labor on such a cold night and don’t you worry, it was not all hard. I woke up to contractions in the earliest hours of January the 18th and I let my household sleep. I wanted solitude. I wanted to clean my home to my satisfaction, no matter how dark the hour. I sung and hummed through those first contractions. I scented the new white washcloths, rolling them in warm water, wringing them and placing them in a large ceramic bowl. I may not have as many pictures of your birth, Rosa Maeve, but I have the memory of being alone with you in this way, fearlessly alone, before I knew you would be a girl or what your name would be. With you tightening in my belly, I moved the couch by myself back to its proper place against the living room wall (I had been sleeping on it next to the fireplace to keep warm), I lit the candles on the mantle and the ones on my birth altar in the bedroom, I added a solid log to the fire. I didn’t need anyone but you in the first hours of my labor. I felt entirely self-reliant, entirely capable: surely that is the gift of having done this once before.

At some point, my humming woke Celeste, who woke your dad, who called the midwife. As often happens when the midwife arrives, my labor stopped. I tried kissing my husband and I tried some nonsense with my nipples because folks always say that makes the contractions pick up.  “Sometimes your body gives you a little break so you can sleep,” my midwife assured me. So she left and we slept with the candles burning and the house smelling of wood smoke and warm wax. Tim fell asleep first as he does and always will and I was alone with you again. I was six centimeters dilated and I sincerely wondered if I was actually in labor.

I ate the porridge sometime around 8:00am. Your grandmother took Celeste in the middle of the night because she started vomiting in what was certainly an attempt to upstage me at my own birth. With our toddler gone, it was remarkably quiet. This simple moment with my porridge and my husband and my stalled labor was what I would have called a date, the last one we would have for a very long time.

Rosa, on the day before you were born I sat in our old Pontiac that smells like rain in the grocery store parking lot and willed you to come. I need a smaller baby and a smoother labor this time, I prayed. You are invited. Your crazy father had already stopped going to work as if he simply knew that you were coming, even though your due date was still a week away and he knew full well that my first child was born almost two weeks late.

My water broke not long after I finished my bowl of porridge and the work began. My memories of what happened next are not so clear. I was in the birth tub and I was out of it. I watched the fire, I complained, the midwife’s assistant lovingly braided my hair. I complained more and worked more. It hurt. But I was surviving the hurt, I was still making jokes. I talked to you: I asked you to help, to come down, to stop floating in my belly like a cork. I knew somehow that you weren’t quite ready; the lanugo on your arms would later prove this. I also knew at this point that you were coming anyway, that you had answered my desperate parking lot call in your brave and likable way.

moms camera, Rosa's birth 171No, I do not have as many pictures of your birth, my Rosa. There wasn’t an artist there to photograph the rolled washcloths in that bowl, the melting candles, my belly like a cartoon moon. Most of the pictures I do have are too private to share. You were born in our bedroom into your father’s hands. Three women assisted in your arrival: a midwife, an almost-midwife, and your own aunt. Mostly it was the two of us, girl. We felt safe in the care of our midwives, safe in the unconditional love from your young daddy and his sister, safe in the simple knowing that there were so many skillful, careful hands in the room.

You were here and a girl, a slight little girl, a small girl, a second little girl, a sister, a slimy sweet crying black-haired lips-like-a-pink-bow little sister girl. Your placenta was born and the cord was cut. I put you to my breast and the midwives fed me cubed papaya on the edge of sharp silver fork. Demanding as ever, I quickly wanted to wash the blood and the shit and the everything from my body: the midwives got me showered, smoothed clean sheets onto our family bed and tucked us all in together. These are small things in writing; I assure you that they are very great to a mother who has just pushed a child from her body.

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There is more to this story- the pushing screams, the scent of cloves, the moment that your older sister came to put your hat on your wet head, the red, yellow, orange roses that flooded our home in the days that came after.

But although I passionately believe in giving the goodness of birth to anyone who will hear it, some things I will save to whisper just to you, my Rosa Maeve. I have watched your older sister go from a swollen newborn to a leggy and imaginative creature that corrects my grammar and barely fits in my arms. Your first year has already slipped away from me in much the same way. My heart aches to hold you in the first hour all over again. If I tell myself that it will be a long time before you are old enough to ask for this story, if I promise myself it will be an eternity before you need the knowledge of carrying a child or giving birth, I am surely telling myself a lie.

My brown-eyed daughter, you are one year old today. We celebrated you all day long. I took you to Rising Tide Spiritual Center, where you grinned and clapped and danced as the other children and their grown-ups whirled to the songs and chants of the world’s religions. I took you to Mable Ringling’s rose garden to see your pals, where you practiced standing and did your best to eat petals and mulch and shells. I love to see you so at home in your babyness, so delighted just by being. The dark mole you have on your left forearm matches mine: I treasure it as deeply as I treasure any quality that we might share. More so, I treasure whatever sparkles within you that is all yours. I could watch you become you forever and never be bored by it, my littlest love.

-mama

 

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