This week I was given the opportunity to present an educational evening on the topic of "Protecting Childhood". What a rich and deep topic this can be! I only had an hour, so I could touch on some themes I see that can help parents give their children a healthy childhood.
We began with a vocal improvisation exercise I received from my music conference with Par Albohm this past summer. Two people stood back to back, eyes closed, in the middle of the room. The rest of us circled around them, singing whatever vowel on whatever pitch we wanted to. When the couple in the middle decided to, they slowly raised their arms and pointed. The two people they pointed to would then hold their note while the rest of the group became silent. Two randomly-sung notes would be heard, and the pairs would switch, and the process began again.
Afterward, we discussed as a group how this was like parenting: you have to tune in and truly listen, there are pockets of dissonance and harmony, it takes you out of your comfort zone, it can be unsettling just like entering a new phase of parenting can be, you are working on finding balance of self within the group, you have to follow your instinct, connections come and go, you are making it up as you go along, sometimes you are more "on" than others.
This gives a picture of what it is like to be a parent/protector. And now we can focus on exactly what it is we are protecting our children from, and what it is we are trying to do as parents. And our basic job as parents is to model and teach what it is to be a human being. So what IS it to be a human being? Again, a rich and seemingly endless topic, BUT, my offering was that if you distill it to the basics of survival, you need 4 things for physical health as a human being:
Social Interaction/love and affection
I took these needs one step further and since I believe we are spiritual beings, I grouped them according to basic spiritual needs:
Shelter: the reverence we bring to the world, the basic structure of our spirit
Clothing: our beliefs; our thoughts and attitudes are cloaked in our beliefs
Food: our connection to, and acknowledgment of, our spiritual Source
Social Interaction: using the other resources of food, clothing, and shelter, we form meaningful, mutually supportive bonds with those around us
When I think about all the things that creep in that are not necessary to survival, like the daily news, the clutter in my house, the extra toys laying around, too many trips to the grocery, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, too much yarn (well, I could argue that yarn IS necessary to MY survival- :)), I am inspired to pare it down, and the folks at Simplicity Parenting have created a movement out of this very concept. Kim John Payne's story as a counselor is well worth reading. The Cliff Notes version is that he saw the same PTSD-type symptoms presenting in tow groups he worked with: those who had lived through and survived war, and over-scheduled, upper-middle-class children in suburban settings. Many of you may have read that book, and it inspired me so much, yet I find myself continually having to stand as a protector of my own door, the door to the shelter of me and my family. The clutter creeps in within the seeming whirlwind of child-rearing. I need to breathe and step back, and take stock frequently, not just of the physical space, but the spiritual space. Each needs deep cleansing from time to time. The "outer world" with its natural disasters and negative news does not need any energy, in the form of worry, from me. A steady diet of that is just depressing. Not that I am against donating, or giving help where it is needed, just that my children need to be protected from being immersed in a steady stream of awareness of those events.
In Waldorf philosophy of child development, from birth-21 there are 3 themes that emerge as follows:
birth-7 The World is Good
7-14 The World is Beauty
14-21 The World is True
Each builds on the other...and in this day and age it is hard enough for ME to believe the world is good, much less teach that to my child. But it is important to be given that sense of trust, to provide emotional and physical safety, in order to internalize the sense of the world as good, beautiful, and true.
The idea of taking stock is important. Yet another wonderful teacher influenced me with a metaphor of a plate: there was the idea that we provide children "meat and potatoes" type experiences, and then "dessert" type experiences.
Taking this a step further, I thought I'd take a look at what's on my plate, and the plate of many parents. To what experiences am I giving my time? What is the quality of my time with my children? How am I using my time, my journey between the spiritual and the physical, to provide a nurtured, protected childhood for my children?
Meat: Experiences that are the anchors for your daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly rhythms. They can also be rituals, like "you are allowed to wear makeup when you are 15." or religious passages like bar/bat mitzvah. Meat experiences are predictable and steady: bedtime at 7, burritoes on Tuesdays, camping trip every fall, easter at Grandma's house, daily care of pets, family dinners.
Potatoes: Experiences that are unstructured, unplanned, "free" For a child, this is time for free play...for adults, this is time where you can do what you feel like you want to do, as opposed to doing what you have to do. For adults, this can be "play time" as well.
Vegetables: Experiences that are somewhere between "meat" and "potatoes". They are less predictable but are inherently connecting, such as baking bread together, gardening, storytelling, family hikes, cleaning together, taking a day trip.
Dessert: Experiences that are not inherently nurturing other than they provide connection to mainstream culture. Just as you would not want to give your body dessert for every meal, you would not give your child these experiences every day. These include exposure to movies, TV, and other media, shopping trips, etc. These arguably have value based on a child's stage of development. For instance, you wouldn't limit these experiences with a teenager like you would with a toddler, and as your family grows, so will this picture of your family's culture, and what influences you will and will not allow in your home.
I had participants in my talk actually draw a plate with circles representing how big their "servings" are. They then were asked to draw a plate where the servings were the ideal size, for them and in the context of their personal family culture.
I have also been looking at what I put on my plate for myself, and what I put on my child's plate. Of course, this changes and grows.
For this first part, I would be remiss in my duties as a Waldorf teacher if I did not leave you with a quote from Steiner:
We must eradicate from the soul all fear and terror of what comes toward us out of the future.
We must acquire serenity in all feelings and sensation about the future.
We must look forward with absolute equanimity to everything that may come.
And we must think only that whatever comes is given to us by a world-directive full of wisdom.
It is part of what we must learn in this age, namely, to live out of pure trust, without any security in existence.
Trust in the ever-present help of the Spiritual World.
Truly, nothing else will do if our courage is not to fail us.
And let us seek the awakening from within ourselves, every morning and evening."
(~ R. Steiner)